May 26, 2018

Spark Academy highlights need for math and literacy support

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Central School’s Spark Academy, an extended day program that offers afterschool core curriculum and enrichment learning to struggling students, launched roughly two months ago with seven instructors and around 30 students.

According to math intervention teacher Kathy Rossier, it has been a resounding success thus far.

“There’s a waiting list of kids who are clamoring to be in this program. It is not a punishment,” Rossier said. “Those kids that we get in the Spark program after school are more relaxed. There’s not a schedule … It’s almost like it’s not school.”

Rossier was joined by WCS intervention teachers Joan Beato and Leah Joly at the Williston School Board’s Nov. 14 meeting. Beato, who focuses on literacy intervention, explained that Spark Academy is related to but separate from WCS’ existing Tier II literacy and math intervention programs.

“Students who join us are close to or slightly below proficient in the local district and state assessments,” Beato said. “The model that we run is small groups—the smaller the better, between four and six students. … It is important to remember that the Tier II is in addition to classroom instruction.”

According to data provided at the Nov. 14 meeting, 101 students in grades 4-8 receive Tier II literacy support, compared to 61 students in grades 3-8 that receive math support. Among students receiving literacy support, 87 percent are in grades 4-6. No eighth-graders receive Tier II math support.

“There’s not enough hours to reach everyone, and the research says the earlier you can grab these kids, the better,” Rossier said. “I think we would agree that the younger kids should be getting the intervention, as research shows.”

Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli suggested that staffing for math and literacy interventions is something the board should consider during its budget-making process.

“One of the things we have to look at is we have resources on every (WCS) house, and if that’s not meeting the needs, then we’re going to have to rethink how we’re staffing completely, and if that’s not enough intervention, then we’re going to have to change it,” Nardelli said.

Beato, in parting, told the board that if it can’t find enough money in the coffers for additional full-time staffing for math and literacy interventions, it should consider increasing para-professional staffing.

“I would say that in Tier II, the more para-professionals we have, the better,” Beato said.

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