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Montezuma-Cortez moving to new elementary curriculum

Executive Director of Academic Student Services Jim Parr informs the Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 Board of Education on March 15 that residents and teachers reached a consensus on a new elementary reading curriculum.
Teachers and community choose from four curricula; finance director concerned about cost

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 will replace its elementary reading curriculum for a considerable cost, months after the school board raised questions about its effectiveness and determined that elements of critical race theory were embedded in its lessons.

The board has delayed discussion about replacing its current curriculum for grades six through eight because of the time needed to consider other curricula.

Kyle Archibeque, executive director of finance for the district, cautioned the board about the financial implications of switching curricula.

The new curriculum, Benchmark Education’s Benchmark Workshop, was approved for three years’ use at a cost of $257,972. Only board Director Jeanette Hart voted against it, preferring another from McGraw Hill.

Benchmark Workshop was one of four options vetted by two committees, one composed of teachers and the other of a “very robust representation of a lot of people” within the community, said Jim Parr, executive director of academic student services, in a school board meeting March 15.

Members of the RE-1 Board of Education have argued that the current Wit and Wisdom curriculum contained critical race theory, a debated subject in Cortez and across the U.S. The district passed a resolution against critical race theory in September.

In Cortez, opinions about the curriculum ranged from vehement opposition to steady support. Some have said the lessons were socially divisive or inappropriate. Others have said critical race theory wasn’t being taught in RE-1 grade schools, and others said the introduction of a new curriculum would strain teachers.

Discussions also questioned Wit and Wisdom’s ability to meet learning standards, because it is a supplemental curriculum.

The other contenders for new curriculum were McGraw Hill’s Open Court, McGraw Hill’s Wonders, Houghton Mifflin’s Hardcore into Reading and Amplify CKLA.

The committees reached a consensus after about a month of deliberation, Parr said.

The committees rated curricula on a scale of 1 to 5, then discussed the top two.

The potential curricula are on the Colorado Department of Education’s list of approved core programming in compliance with the READ Act.

“I think when people have a common goal of providing quality materials for students, they get together,” Parr said at the meeting.

The discussion about replacing reading curriculum for grades six through eight – still in its first year of use – was delayed by the board.

That process, and time to instruct teachers on new teaching materials, takes months, Parr said.

Board Director Layne Frazier said teachers have to do additional research to supplement current lessons, and a switch would save them time in the long run as well as benefit student learning.

Archibeque said that the board should evaluate curriculum on a cycle, noting that switching curriculum from one year to the next is not “financially responsible.”

“I know that we’re talking about this like it’s an easy thing, but these are big dollar amounts,” Archibeque said at the meeting.

Currently, the district reviews curriculum on a five-year cycle, Parr said at the meeting.

However, evaluating new curricula is “worth it” because “our goal is ultimately to get the best stuff in front of our kids,” Parr said.

District staff have modified current curriculum to avoid teaching “controversial” material, school administrators said at the meeting.

Parr emphasized that community involvement and transparency were integrated into the curriculum selection process. The district also hosted a community curriculum review event Feb. 10.

In an email statement, Chad Colby, communications director for Great Minds, said: “Wit & Wisdom is a K-8 curriculum building knowledge, skills and character that features award-winning books from both contemporary and established authors, many of which parents will remember from their own childhoods. The books, which introduce kids to facts about U.S. history, the arts and sciences, and values including strength, compassion and resilience, are chosen to match ages and grade-levels. The much-loved books in Wit & Wisdom do not teach critical race theory (CRT) and the program is in full compliance with all federal and state laws.”