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Lafayette Schools Embrace Common Core, Looking Positively to the Future

Lafayette County schools continue to gradually implement the Common Core State Standards, with the high school field-testing new assessments this spring.

Johnson's classroom is designed to facilitate student collaboration.
Johnson’s classroom is designed to facilitate student collaboration.

Mississippi’s switch to Common Core State Standards has continued to be a hot button issue in the realms of politics and education so far in 2014. The standards were adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010, and although debate continues, educators in Lafayette County see their transition as largely positive.
Melissa Johnson, a social studies teacher at Lafayette Middle School, is finishing up her second semester of teaching with the Common Core standards in mind, and for her, the transition was natural.
“When I first saw the standards for Common Core I thought, ‘If I’ve been doing my job correctly, then this isn’t new,’” Johnson said.  She does not see the standards as a rigid curriculum, as opponents of Common Core often argue.
“It’s the unspoken curriculum that I think, speaking for the middle school, a lot of teachers were practicing in their classrooms,” Johnson said. “It changed from something that was understood to being a requirement.”
Sixth grade teacher Melissa Johnson believe that Common Core supports her natural teaching style.
Sixth-grade teacher Melissa Johnson believes that Common Core supports her natural teaching style.

LMS assistant principal Joseph Adams is also supportive of the way his school is implementing the standards, at first slowly and now with full force. Last year, the school pushed the qualities of teaching Common Core, and in the 2013-2014 school year has moved to full application of the standards.
“The thing is, these are standards; it’s not a curriculum,” Adams said. “They’re not telling you how to teach it; they’re telling you the things students need to be prepared for by the time they get out of high school beginning with 10th grade, ninth and on down to kindergarten.”
Because Common Core State Standards are expected to be more difficult than the previous Mississippi standards, Lafayette chose to incorporate the standards in the elementary schools first and slowly work into upper schools in order to maintain a narrow learning gap.
“Our current third-graders will be prepared wonderfully by the time we get them in sixth grade, but the gap comes when we’re doing Common Core and our fourth-, fifth-, and current sixth-graders haven’t had that type of training,” Johnson said.
One way that Johnson altered her teaching style to become more compatible with Common Core was by rearranging her classroom, allowing students to sit in groups, rather then individually.
“I arrange the seats in these pods so that the students are working independently as far as from the teacher, but they are also working collaboratively as a group to solve problems,” Johnson said.
As Common Core comes into full swing, students will be expected to participate in more open discussion and improve their ability to express opinions related to the subjects they are learning. This means mastering tools such as writing in sentences and deciphering word problems earlier than is typically expected.
Adams sees the rise in expectations for students as a positive of Common Core.
“You always hear that phrase ‘a mile long and an inch deep’ about those [old standards], and what we’re going for here is an inch long and a mile deep,” Adams said.
With continued enthusiasm from teachers and administrators, as well as public support from local politicians, Common Core is proving to be an asset to Lafayette County schools, perhaps a picture of what other districts can expect to see in the future.
– Grace Sullivan is a staff writer for HottyToddy.com and can be reached at gmsulli1@go.olemiss.edu.

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