With several district schools deemed in need of “assistance or intervention” by the state, the superintendent of Fall River Public Schools wants next year’s budget to include funding to hire three directors tasked with overseeing district-wide math, science and English language arts curricula.
FALL RIVER — With several district schools deemed in need of “assistance or intervention” by the state, the superintendent of Fall River Public Schools wants next year’s budget to include funding to hire three directors tasked with overseeing district-wide math, science and English language arts curricula.
“We’re a district in need of intervention the state says we’re not doing well in English, math and science, and we don’t have leadership positions,” said Superintendent Matthew Malone. “Learning and teaching is where Fall River really needs help — I have great teachers, but I don’t have folks pulling it all together.”
Malone presented his top 6 priorities for next year’s budget to the Fall River School Committee this month. It’s an early step in the budget process that comes even earlier this year compared to last, Malone said, due to the city’s new charter.
Malone uses the priority list, a first reading of which was unanimously approved by the school committee this month, when developing his budget proposal.
His priority list focused on upping resources for social-emotional learning, English language learning and special education. It emphasizes the need for new learning technology and updated assessment criteria, and also presses for investment toward school safety, preventative maintenance, transportation and capital expenses.
A few key positions that were lost in tight budget years could be hired back if one of Malone’s priorities makes it through the months-long budget process into the final school budget, which City Council generally approves in late spring.
Malone proposed hiring three directors, one each to oversee math, science and social studies curriculum. The administrators would help make sure curriculum is standard across all schools, so students receive the same quality of instruction regardless of where they are enrolled, he said.
While the district currently employs two directors who oversee fine arts and physical education, respectively, it does not have directors who oversee the three subjects that the state looks at when compiling its accountability ratings, said Malone.
Malone said there’s no reason why six of the district’s 17 schools are looked on by the state as in need of “assistance or intervention,” a designation created under the Massachusetts’ new accountability system.
The schools with that designation are B. M. C. Durfee High School, Henry Lord Community School, Mary Fonseca Elementary School, Morton Middle School, Resiliency Preparatory Academy, Samuel Watson Elementary School and Talbot Innovation School.
Another of Malone’s priorities is to implement a district-wide phonics curriculum. Phonics is the mode of teaching children to read through attaching sounds to letters.
School Committee Member Paul Coogan said that currently Fall River schools teach reading using a mix of phonics and an approach known as “whole language,” which encourages children to learn to recognize entire words rather than sound them out.
“Phonics will allow you to sound out a word that you’re not familiar with,” said Coogan.
Malone said he aims to bring a standardized phonics curriculum to the district’s early literacy program next fiscal year.
“A phonics based program is a research based model to get kids reading much more fluidly and comprehensively,” he said.
At Fonseca elementary last school year, 18 percent of students in third grade met reading expectations, compared to 43 percent of third graders who meet expectations across the state, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Across the district, 30 teachers work as “interventionist/coaches,” tasked with identifying struggling students and helping them improve. In his list of district budget priorities, Malone has also proposed hiring retired teachers to work in that role on a part-time basis.
“We want to provide all the services that student needs to get their education,” he said.
While the budget season has only just begun, Malone expects that this year’s budget will be an increase of about $6 million compared to fiscal 2019. But he said he expects that the state will likely see an increase in funding from the state.