Muscogee County School Board approves K-5 reading program

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

The Muscogee County School Board voted Tuesday to name Polk County's David Lewis, 56, as the finalist for the job of superintendent. 07/09/13

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

The Muscogee County School Board unanimously approved Monday night a system-wide reading program for grades K-5.

The program superintendent David Lewis recommended is called Reading Wonders. The district's cost will be $1,755,022. Half will be due within 30 days of shipment; the other half will be due by Dec. 1, 2014, in next fiscal year. The package also includes $5,126,230 in "free materials," the agenda items says.

Cathy Williams, the nine-member board's lone county-wide representative, put the program's cost in perspective.

"For some people in this country, they consider education an expense," she said. "I think we need to change the way we think about that. This is one of those cases where you can say this is an investment. This is an investment in our future."

Lewis' proposal comes after he visited all 58 of the districts schools and centers during his first four months in office. He found schools were using too many inconsistent methods to teach reading.

"For years, teachers have been using their own money and looking for so many different products to meet the needs of their children," said Terry Baker, the district's elementary education director.

According to its website, Reading Wonders is the first and only reading and language arts program aligned with the Common Core, a set of national standards Georgia has incorporated.

Reading Wonders especially will help schools with students from predominantly low-income families, where reading materials are less prevalent than in more affluent homes, Lewis has said. Students will be able to take home books and also have access to reading material online. Lewis also has noted that, unlike most programs, Reading Wonders links reading and writing instruction together. The program comes with assessments to monitor student progress and improve instruction.

And when Lewis confirmed the program comes with guided lesson plans for teachers, District 8 representative Beth Harris interjected, "I am sold."

A committee of teachers, principals, assistant principals and reading coaches helped Lewis choose Reading Wonders, which is published by McGraw-Hill. Lewis vowed this won't be the last comprehensive instructional program he will recommended for the district.

In other action, the board approved:

• The calendar for the 2014-15 school year. Teachers will report Aug. 4. Students will report for the first day of classes Aug. 7. The last day of classes will be May 22. For the complete calendar, click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com

• The hiring of Brasfield & Gorie as construction manager at risk for the fine and performing arts academy, expected to be built on school district property behind the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road. Brasfield & Gorie is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., but has an office in Columbus. Freeman & Associates of Columbus and Balfour Beatty Construction of Atlanta submitted a combined proposal. The project's preliminary cost estimate is $30 million, funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax county voters approved in 2009.

• The promotion of Willie Cooks from special education teacher at Reese Road Leadership Academy to assistant principal at Fox and South Columbus elementary schools. He will replace the retiring Lamour Johnson.

District 4 representative Naomi Buckner questioned why the agenda item notes Cooks' promotion is "temporary," from Jan. 6 through May 29. Lewis and human resources chief Kathy Tessin said all midyear appointments of principals and assistant principals will be considered temporary until the administration knows next year's budget numbers and staffing needs.

Budget cuts from the state prompted the district to close two schools after last school year, and the administration has warned more schools might have to be closed.

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