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Bemidji School District: Curriculums for arts, world language reviewed

Bemidji School District teachers have reviewed the past year's art, music and world languages curriculums for grades K-12.

The new curriculums meet Minnesota academic standards and will be up for state Legislature approval in the fall.

Kathy Palm, director of curriculum and administrative services, said the curriculum assessment is important because of the high mobility rate in the Bemidji school district.

"We want to make sure that [the students] are seeing the same materials so they can pick up where they left off -that's really important," Palm said.

She said the mobility rate of kids moving in and out of schools was exceptionally high in the state - around 22 percent.

The review process of the 2008-09 curriculums is a yearly process, with the subjects changing each year. A six-year curriculum review cycle has been laid out to review core and secondary subjects, which are rotated and assessed again. Next year, vocational education, family and consumer sciences and industrial technology will be reviewed.

Palm said the outcomes from the curriculum assessments helped to create a resource for new teachers, teachers outside the district, as well as current teachers to create continuity for educating.

"It's like saying, 'My kids need to know this by the end of the year. Now how am I going to get there?'" Palm said.

Palm said creating this standard of resources for teachers is different from teaching chapter-by-chapter from a textbook.

"It's much better when you know what your expectations are, and teachers still have some freedom to teach what they like," she said. "Everybody doesn't have to do the exact same thing, but they do need to make sure that the still have the same skills at the end."

Materials for these new curriculums were capped because of recent budget cuts.

"Because of the budget cuts, we were cut $100,000," Palm said. "So, instead of $300,000, we had $200,000 to work with and that worked out okay."

Palm said this year, teachers knew they had a budget cap and prioritized the materials they needed.

Coinciding with the curriculum assessments, the art and language standards have been a part of an ongoing pilot project with the Perpich Center for Arts education for about three years.

The Minnesota Department of Education has departments for science and math and all the specialties, but it doesn't have departments for the arts.

"The Perpich Center, known as the Arts High School, originally, acts as the go-to for people for anything about the arts," said Mike Ohl, Arts Committee chair and Bemidji High School teacher.

Ohl said the help of the Perpich Center has created an opportunity to align what teachers are currently doing now with the new proposed standards in art and music.

"The past four years, these new standards have been coming up for the arts, and they have been looking for new strategies and are finding success," Ohl said.

The cuts in the state budget have also affected the grant money for the Perpich Center, but Ohl said there is still hope for these pilot schools to take these standards and reach outlying districts to create a hub with the same educational expectations.

"All the stuff we've developed has got just a little bit of use in the classroom," he said. "We're still just testing it out, but next year we would make our refinements and then start meeting with those outlying districts."

Palm said that with good communication, the curriculums would be revised to meet all standards at every level.

"It's common that high school will say, 'Middle school, you're not preparing the kids for us,' and the middle school will say 'Elementary, you're not preparing the kids for us,' and Elementary will say, 'Parents your not doing a good enough job preparing for us," she said. "Once they get to know what everybody is doing, I think they get to appreciate each other more and that's important."

The curriculum review process is made up of committees of teachers from grades K-12 who are brought together to talk about the process and look to make sure the current curriculums are aligned with those standards.

The 2008-2009 curriculum reviews were presented in June 2008 and have now been prepared for vote in the Minnesota Legislature this fall. The curriculum reviews can now be viewed on the Bemidji school district Web site