Shelton schools get 'long overdue' curriculum upgrade

SHELTON — School staffers returned this year to full days of instruction with a revamped curriculum — the first such in-depth changes made in a decade.

Superintendent Ken Saranich and Kristen Santilli, district-wide director of curriculum, instruction and data, said the district’s addition of Eureka Math Squared and Wit and Wisdom brings consistency of instruction across the district in all grade levels. Wit and Wisdom is now used up to eighth grade, while the math is currently being used up to sixth grade, with a pilot program running in grades 7 and 8.

“Prior to this, the district was fragmented. We were just a system of schools,” Saranich said. “Now, we are collectively acting as a school system.”

And staff are already seeing the impacts of the new programs.

“I am seeing the students really engage in the texts and conversations,” Shelton Intermediate School teacher Christine Purcell said. “The lessons really build upon one another. So since there is so much repetition, the big concepts seem to be sticking.”

She said the most rewarding day was when her class practiced the Socratic Seminar.

“Hearing the students really engage in discussion, build upon one another’s ideas, truly listen and respond to their peers, and communicate their knowledge and understanding of the module made me feel more confident about the curriculum,” Purcell said.

Eureka Math Squared is a math program designed to build enduring math knowledge using consistent math models, Santilli said. The goal, she said, is to make math instruction more teachable and engaging.

Wit and Wisdom is a comprehensive English curriculum for students in kindergarten to eighth grade developed by and for teachers, Santilli said. The approach is integrated and text-based, with daily reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar and vocabulary study, all drawing off the text.

Santilli said Wit and Wisdom helps teachers celebrate the joy of reading and writing with students, while also supporting all learners to tackle the rigor the standards demand.

“By reading books they love and engaging meaningfully in their learning, students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful readers, critical thinkers and effective communicators who love to learn and can succeed in college and careers,” she said.

Each unit of study in each grade focuses on a topic essential for building background knowledge, vocabulary and writing skills. For example, students learn about the seasons, the American Revolution, civil rights and space exploration. Santilli said essential topics strategically reoccur, empowering students to deepen their understanding of core knowledge across grades K-8.

Perry Hill School teacher Anna Marie Colangelo said all of her students have adjusted to the new curriculum.

“They all have access to the general education curriculum and it encompasses all the areas of need within the lessons,” Colangelo said. “The vocabulary component of the lessons is key for students who may struggle because for many of them we are pre-teaching vocabulary to them in our lessons. Wit & Wisdom incorporates that into their lessons.”

Elizabeth Shelton School teacher Taylor Kennedy said the new curriculum allows special education students to be part of the general instruction.

“There is more emphasis on inclusion,” Kennedy said. “The students feel like they are more part of their class now.”

Hailey Pierson, also of Elizabeth Shelton School, said her students are enjoying the exposure to the new texts in Wit and Wisdom and the math work in the new Eureka Math Squared curriculum.

“(The students) are participating in the read-aloud components very effectively,” she said. “In Eureka Squared, students are enjoying the routines as well. The routine component being similar in both programs allows students to know what to expect each day.”

The teachers’ responses are what Saranich had hoped to hear when he first began his push to revamp the curriculum when he became assistant superintendent under then-Superintendent Chris Clouet. The curriculum had not been revised in 10 years, he said, adding that each year teachers simply made modifications to the curriculum already in place.

“Teachers did the best they could with what they had,” Santilli said.

Saranich made the decision prior to 2020 that the time had come to bring the curriculum up to date. The next step, Santilli said, was getting the district’s educators on board. She said programs were piloted at each grade, and a district-wide curriculum revision committee was established.

The end result was the selection of the new programs. The district spent $650,000 for the two programs, with the majority of the money coming from state pandemic relief funds, since the expenditures aided in learning recovery, Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said.

“We have a lot of ground to make up after all the learning loss last year,” Saranich said about the closures and hybrid learning over the past year and a half after the onset of the pandemic. “This was long overdue.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com