North Hills to help students in reading

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North Hills School District will introduce a three-tier literacy arts program to help middle school students who are reading well below grade level.

Johanna Vanatta, assistant superintendent for secondary education, presented the plan Feb. 6 to school directors at their work session.

Although 84 percent of district students are proficient or advanced in reading on the Pennsylvania State System of Assessment tests, “it’s about growth,” said Superintendent Patrick Mannarino. “The current program has run its course. It has not given us the return of investment.”

The program's first tier will be for students who are reading three years or more below grade level and scored basic or below basic on the PSSA. They will receive two periods a day devoted to reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary and grammar with one of those periods involving technology to reinforce precision and pacing of their reading.

This group is approximately 10 percent of middle school students who have struggled with reading throughout elementary school, Ms. Vanatta said.

The next tier will be one period per day for students reading one to three years below grade level and scoring basic to low proficient on the PSSA. They would not have the additional class using technology because “they don’t need the auditory component,” Ms. Vanatta said.

The third tier is for those reading on or above their grade level and scoring mid-proficient or advanced on the PSSA. It will be one semester and will develop strategies for reading different types of materials, such as the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

“By making these tweaks in the program, I think we will see much more gain,” Ms. Vanatta said.

In other action, board members heard Jason King, director of technology, speak about new web filtering software that will better block harmful and obscene material as well as save $45,000 per year over the current system.

Projects in the 2014-15 school year will involve upgrading the wireless infrastructure and replacing laptops. The following year, they hope to update the desktop operating system and are considering a one-to-one initiative, which would give students a device to use for school work.

Mr. King said North Hills has 3,100 computers, 500 iPads, 200 printers and copiers and 300 projectors in use.

“I see the use of this equipment and the wonderful things it is enabling out teachers to do in the classroom with our students,” he said.

John Kreider, high school principal, also updated the board about the school’s academies, which allow students to specialize in an area of interest while still in high school. This way, if they decide that the career is not for them, they are not making a “$10,000 mistake” by changing majors while in college, Mr. Kreider said.

The high school offers academies in arts and communications, business and finance, engineering, law and government, medicine and world affairs. Students are steered to required and elective classes that fit in that discipline.

This year, the high school staff reached out “to the local and regional community and the university level to draw in a variety of resources not previously involved in high school,” Mr. Kreider said.

An advisory board was formed for each academy. The first two advisory boards met Jan. 30 and last Thursday, and the others will follow throughout February and March.

The boards “are a diverse group of individuals,” Mr. Kreider said, adding that he hopes the members can help with internships, job shadowing and have input on the curriculum.

Financial partnerships also are being offered, he said.

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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