Stakeholders debate pros and cons of new curriculum

Published 8:22 pm Friday, November 10, 2017

Beaufort County Schools’ new curriculum Wit & Wisdom is drawing mixed reviews from educators and parents.

The district began implementing Wit & Wisdom this school year for kindergarten through eighth grade. Headed up by Andrea Lilley, Nancy Phipps and Suzanne Brantley, a team researched multiple curricular options and met with teachers and principals for feedback before selecting one.



Wit & Wisdom is a K-8 English curriculum developed by the nonprofit Great Minds, which also developed Eureka Math. Wit & Wisdom focuses on reading and writing concepts, while also weaving in social studies and science aspects.

There are four modules per grade level, with each module comprised of 30 lessons covered in six to eight weeks.

According to the Great Minds website, Wit & Wisdom is built around an integrated type of learning. It incorporates: instructional routines to help the students master complex texts; text-dependent questions to promote a deeper understanding; explicit writing instruction; text-based vocabulary; and formative assessments to show progress.

“Whether students are learning about the seasons, the American Revolution or space exploration, they are exposed to works of literature, informational text and art of the highest quality. Essential topics strategically reoccur, empowering students to deepen understanding of core knowledge,” the website states.

Wit & Wisdom is also built on the concept of not watering down information, or rather, lowering expectations. All grade levels teach similar learning concepts, but the complexity of the lessons increases, as students progress through the grades.

BCS hosted two training sessions for teachers during the summer, and professional development sessions have continued throughout the year.

“BCS provided teachers with core content to help raise the bar for the students. Our previous test data proved that we were not growing our students, and a more rigorous curriculum was needed,” explained Andrea Lilley, director of instructional services at BCS. “The core content tells the teachers ‘what’ to teach but not ‘how’ to teach it.”



Although the school district’s administration has expressed confidence in Wit & Wisdom, others are not so sure.

In the younger grades, especially, some students struggle with the new curriculum — frustrating those parents who report upset children at home. Teachers are also trying to balance the new coursework with students at different academic levels and behavioral/emotional maturities.

Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps said the curriculum was rolled out quickly and across all grades at first, following the suggestions provided by Great Minds. In hindsight, he said, those suggestions were not the best fit for Beaufort County Schools and a more pilot-program approach would have worked better.

“Implementation has been a challenge, as we expected. Change always brings challenges. We have addressed each concern as we were made aware of them. Time has been a big challenge,” Lilley said.

Phipps said he has heard feedback from teachers in the younger grades about the lessons being too long for 5-, 6- and 7-year-old students. He said he thinks teachers were under the impression they could not modify the lessons, which is not the case.

Addressing some of those concerns, the Beaufort County Board of Education has since modified the requirements, shifting Wit & Wisdom to an optional program in kindergarten through third grade.

Phipps said he wants teachers to know they can tailor Wit & Wisdom to their particular classroom needs — another reason the district selected it. Lilley agreed.

“With anything new or difficult, it is perfectly acceptable for some students to require more time in the phases. Teachers may find themselves staying in a phase longer during the first year of implementation,” she said. “Learning how to differentiate and scaffold instruction is key to supporting student learning at all levels.”

Lilley said there has been positive feedback on the curriculum, as well. Some parents are pleased to see their children writing more, and some teachers have given their stamp of approval for Wit & Wisdom.

Lilley and Phipps both reported positive feedback from longtime teachers — in one case, Wit & Wisdom was described as “the best core curriculum they have used in over 20 years of teaching.”

The curriculum is no doubt more rigorous, but Lilley said changes were needed to better prepare students for the future.

“This is a rigorous curriculum that asks students to think, read, write, listen and speak in a way that is unprecedented for many of our students. Our students need these skills in order to be college and career ready and to perform better on the ACT,” she said.



Several teachers expressed reluctance to share some of their concerns. All teachers contacted for this article declined to be quoted and/or did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal. One teacher even reported being given strict instructions from administration to not discuss concerns openly.

Phipps, however, disagreed with this sentiment. He said he values all feedback and feels it is needed to improve. “Growing pains” are normal, according to Phipps, and solutions should be discussed.

“Some stakeholders have shared concerns and questions. Others are excited about the achievements and accomplishments of their students,” Lilley said. “We are committed to providing support in all areas for our teachers and students. We will continue with staff development necessary for this first year of implementation.”

Only time will tell on the success of Wit & Wisdom. However, all parties involved can agree on two points: the need to strive for a smoother transition period and providing the best possible education for students.