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School board — Mills Lawn ends ILE program

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The longstanding Interest Learning Education Program, or ILE, at Mills Lawn, which arose out of former gifted programming at the elementary school, will be discontinued with the start of the new academic year, Yellow Springs school district Superintendent Mario Basora told the school board at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, July 13. 

The program will end in favor of a Project-Based Learning, or PBL, “foundations” class for kindergarten through fourth grades, Basora said. He described the new class as “not much different” from ILE, though it will involve the younger grades rather than the entire school. PBL education is the district’s current curriculum model, and the change supports that emphasis.

ILE, which evolved from a briefly implemented gifted program at Mills Lawn in the 1990s, had been held up as a local alternative to gifted services. In its most recent incarnation, according to the program’s description online, ILE provided academic enrichment opportunities to all students while addressing the specific needs of students identified as gifted.

“It’s how we’ve adopted gifted services,” Basora said.

The district does not provide gifted programming as defined by the state. However, as required by state law, the district does identify gifted students through specialized testing. School literature also asserts that the schools make various accommodations for the students who are so identified, and Basora said that classroom teachers work to provide differentiated instruction for students with varying needs.

Basora said that the district currently has about 50 students who have been identified as gifted.

Relatedly, the board also accepted a letter of resignation from Carol Culbertson, who had taught the ILE program for the past six years. Her part-time position also included serving as the district’s gifted coordinator, who oversaw the gifted identification testing. Culbertson came to Yellow Springs in 2011 after a 30-year career in gifted and special education in Huber Heights. 

Her brief letter, sent as an email to Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh, said that she would not be returning to Mills Lawn “due to the constraints put upon the schedule for the 2017–18 school year.”

Principal Housh said this week that the district will now contract with a specialist through the county’s Educational Services Center for the state-mandated testing and related gifted coordination. 

As for the PBL foundations class, Housh said it will be taught by sixth-grade math teacher Sarah Amin, who will split each day between PBL and math instruction. 

Like art, music and gym — and as ILE had been — the foundations class will be part of the specialists’ schedule, Housh said.

The purpose, he said, is “to meet and support the development of PBL skills and 21st century skills,” which he identified as “collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking — the four C’s.”

In relation to local gifted services, Basora told the board that recent changes to state regulations concerning gifted education have prompted some revisions of local policies, which he presented to the board for a first reading July 13.

The local policy changes, on their face, do not look significantly different from what was already in place, and primarily make certain the language lines up with state guidelines. 

The state’s new regulations, which went into effect July 1, set a minimum number of hours for gifted instruction as well as standards for teacher qualifications, among other directives, in order to be designated as a state-sanctioned gifted program, Basora said.

“We can’t meet the minimum hours without hiring a gifted teacher full time,” he said. “This is one of those classic unfunded mandates.”

Among other additional new directives, the state now  requires that the parents or guardians of students who have been identified as gifted be notified by letter if their school district does not provide gifted services.

Board member Anne Erickson suggested that the required letter affirm the “effective” educational methods currently in place.

The school board unanimously approved the first reading of the gifted policy revisions and will vote whether to adopt them after a second reading, likely at the Aug. 11 meeting. Present were Erickson, Steve Conn, Sean Creighton and board President Aïda Merhemic.

In other school board business July 13:

• The board approved the creation of a K–6 Cross Categorical Special Needs Program at Mills Lawn effective the 2017–18 school year. Superintendent Basora said that the move addresses the “increased number of students with special needs” who will be at the elementary school this coming academic year. “There are more students coming into kindergarten with significant special needs,” he added.

Principal Housh this week said that special needs numbers are enough that the school is adding a teacher and a half-time paraprofessional position, raising the special needs staffing levels to four intervention specialists, five full-time aides and one half-time aide. He noted that the school has had four intervention specialists in the past, and that staffing numbers fluctuate with the ever-changing school population.

• The board welcomed two new members of the teaching staff who have been hired for the 2017–18 school year. 

Chelsea McFarland, who was a student teacher under the supervision of Debra Mabra at Mills Lawn, has already started setting up her second-grade classroom, Basora said. While the new school year will be her first as a full-time teacher, she has experience working with youth at Oesterlen Services for Youth in Springfield. She also has filled in as a district substitute teacher, and she coached volleyball last year. She said she will continue as a volleyball coach. Superintendent Basora quoted Mabra as saying that McFarland “was the best student teacher I’ve ever had.”

Tamara Morrison, a veteran teacher in the Fairborn district, where she was  department head of the high school’s nine-teacher math faculty, will be joining the Yellow Srings High School staff this year. She will teach a variety of math classes, including AP calculus, Basora said. Morrison, whose daughter, Hannah Morrison, was the 2016 YS valedictorian, said she also completed her student teaching here — under the guidance of longtime, now retired, teacher Chris Rainey.

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