Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

New questions arise over Pasco social studies textbooks

LAND O'LAKES — For the second time in a week, Pasco school officials halted plans to buy textbooks over concerns about how the materials were selected.

This time, the questions focused on social studies materials for middle and high schools.

School Board members on Tuesday said they had received several calls from teachers on the committees asked to review the secondary-level books, suggesting the district administration had changed some of the titles up for consideration midway through the effort.

District officials offered few insights into what might have happened.

"The concerns that you are raising are new to me," said Ruth Reilly, assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum. "They are things I would like to investigate."

The School Board refused to act on secondary books.

"I still would like some more information," chairwoman Joanne Hurley said, with others on the board voicing agreement.

Their questions come on the heels of complaints late last week that superintendent Heather Fiorentino unilaterally overrode a committee's choice for elementary school social studies textbooks. She planned to recommend the text by publisher McGraw-Hill, which was represented by a former district employee now dating the assistant superintendent for elementary schools. A panel that included dozens of Pasco teachers favored a book by a group called TCI.

Fiorentino did not present her recommendation for elementary materials to the School Board on Tuesday. She said she wanted to further review her thoughts with the committee.

She had scheduled a meeting with the elementary selection committee for next Tuesday. At that session, the administrative staff intends to explain why it went with McGraw-Hill books over TCI.

Board members have criticized that move, saying the administration should respect the time and expertise of its committee.

Fiorentino did not disagree.

She said she wanted all committee members to be aware of her staff's views on the materials. Specifically, they found that not all schools can handle the technology required by the TCI book and that the book did not clearly spell out the federal Common Core standards attached to each lesson.

After that, though, the teachers will get to vote anonymously on which book to pick. Fiorentino said she would respect that choice.

"They're the ones that are going to have to use it," she said. "We want to make sure that we purchase what is best for the students and for the teachers."

Board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong asked whether a delay in approving the titles would create problems for the district.

Instructional materials director Wendy Spriggs said the biggest potential hurdle would be if the books are heavily ordered and not enough are available.

"The further behind we get in the ordering process, we do run the risk of having back orders," she said.

Board member Allen Altman dismissed such concerns, though.

"Other districts got the information at the same time as us," he said. "They should be on the same timeline."

The critical issue, he and others said, was getting to the bottom of the process and making sure it runs properly.

"I am still a little unclear," board member Alison Crumbley said. "There are a lot of layers here."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.

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