Following a lengthy discussion, the School Committee voted 4 to 1 to approve the adoption of a new elementary social studies curriculum framework.
The curriculum, called OCON, or One Community One Nation, teaches students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade about community, culture and civics, using case studies of American history.
The curriculum framework is currently under development, according to their website. It is used in Hudson Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, KY.
Superintendent Sheldon Berman made a point in the meeting to note that he has no financial link to OCON, addressing rumors regarding a financial benefit to him.
"I have no copyright, no investment, no financial link to anything in this," he said. "Somehow there is something out there that I have some financial link, and there isn't any. It astounds me, but there isn't any financial investment or financial gain to anyone in my family, or any friend I know, and, in fact, I don't know that there's ever going to be a profit in any of this, frankly. I think this is meant to be a resource for all of this."
OCON is laid out in a year-by-year sequence.
The website states children will be introduced to the concepts of community and culture.
The focus for kindergarten and first grade students is on creating community from diversity.
Second grade students will study a variety of cultures and countries. In Andover, the four countries they will learn about are Mexico, China, India and Kenya.
The third grade program teaches civics on a local and state level while children study local and state history. Each third-grade class in a school identifies a need in their community, then selects and studies an organization that is addressing that need. They also study local government.
Fourth- and fifth-grade students will study the evolution of our political society through the lens of the development of civil and human rights.
Fourth-graders take a case study approach to units on the evolution of religious liberty in the settling of the American colonies, the First Amendment rights to dissent as represented in the American Revolution, the evolution of civil rights through the emancipation from slavery, and the abolition of child labor.
Fifth graders build on these experiences with case studies on immigration and the treatment and rights of immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the expansion of rights for disabled children and adults in the last half century.
The cost of the curriculum for the 2019 to 2020 school year, laid out by Assistant Superintendent Sandra Trach, is as follows:
-- $40,000 for professional development providers. About 25 teachers at a time will participate in four day institutes, similar to a teachers' workshop. There are two institutes, one for grades kindergarten to third and one for grades 4 and 5, at a cost of $20,000 each.
-- $13,400 for the partner institute. Teachers that have participated in the institute previously can attend a second time to extend their learning.-- $15,000 for collaborative district institutes. Trach said the district is looking to send four teachers to one of five institutes interested in sharing and exchanging ideas about the curriculum. It would be up to 20 teachers total for the year.
-- $9,000 for administrative support to run the logistics of three institutes at APS.
-- $1,500 for nominal supplies. Trach said materials are supported out of the school's operating budget. Mentor texts are supported by the school district budget and grants from ACE, or the Andover Coalition for Education.
-- $28,475 for the cost of substitute teachers while teachers are out of the classroom and at the institute. The total number of days teachers are expected to be out of classrooms is 335 days.
-- Total cost is $110,925
School Committee discussion
School Committee Member Tracey Spruce was the one vote against the curriculum, noting several concerns with the process, costs and lost learning times that would go along with pulling teachers out of school for professional development.
"I have a really high level of discomfort with the process and the amount of money, and the lost learning time when there's substitutes in the classroom for 335 days," said Spruce, who was the only member to speak out against the program. "We just made a huge investment in this district to extend our school day to add learning time to our children's education, and this seems to turn that on its head."
Berman said the adoption of OCON stems from the realization that Andover Public Schools' curriculum, although social studies is taught, is inconsistent across the schools. He said it is even inconsistent across teachers at the same schools.
Other members of the committee expressed little concern over the new curriculum, and even praised the new idea.
"I think it's a really interesting curriculum," said Committee Member Shannon Scully. "It's a really powerful way to learn and I do love the integration in the lessons."
Though Spruce said she appreciated the value of the curriculum and the work that has been put into it, her concerns led her to vote against it.
"We have a small number of regular and dedicated substitutes," she said. "They can only do so much. What I'm hearing from my kids when they have a substitute is it's a day off. Anything that can be done to reduce the number of substitutes in my books is a plus."
She also noted that no other alternatives were brought to the committee. Though she said there were alternatives that may have been more costly, the committee did not have a choice on which curriculum would be implemented.