Garden City Public Schools premiered its updated district literacy plan to the USD 457 Board of Education at its meeting Monday night.

The new plan was a requirement for the Literacy Network of Kansas, or LiNK, grant. Director of Elementary Education Leigh Ann Roderick, Director of Curriculum and Assessment Crystal Steinmetz and ESOL Coach Monica Diaz walked the board through the research-based plan that builds students reading skills from birth to 12th grade.

The plan focuses on reading instruction, intervention, strategies for English language learners, writing instruction, independent reading, early childhood readiness, additional reading programs and in-class reading activities.

Part of the plan includes incorporating uninterrupted, 90-minute reading blocks into district curriculum for grades K-8. Students would not be pulled out of class, and instead would focus on reading lessons like phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension instruction through active group work and centers, Roderick said. In addition to the 90-minute block, students whould have 30 minutes dedicated to writing instruction.

Part of the plan is building on in-place literacy programs, like the Kansas Reading Roadmap, which is currently used by five USD 457 elementary schools, and Books on the Bus, a program through the Finney County Literacy Council that gives low-income students access to books during the summer.

Roderick said the plan was built to better align district curriculum to state standards, involve the community in students’ literacy, teach staff and faculty how to best assist struggling students and improve the writing and reading capability of English second language students and students with disabilities.

The plan includes adopting new English/Language Arts textbooks for the 2019-20 school year, which will be used as the primary resource in the subject’s curriculum, Diaz said. The plan also emphasizes the visual database tool Illuminate. The tool will help teachers track students’ progress and pinpoint specific issues, Steinmetz said

Several board members, including Dana Nanninga and Jennifer Standley, inquired about the 90-minute reading block and 30-minute writing instruction. They were worried about teachers not having enough time to implement the plan on a daily basis and whether other subjects, like science or social studies, could be weaved into the reading lessons.

Nanninga said she understood that the district’s diverse population, which includes many children new to English, called for a determined reading and writing education plan, but she was worried about students who excelled in school and craved a challenge.

Roderick and Renee Scott, the district’s assistant superintendent of student services, said teachers could track students' success with Illuminate and differentiate the reading block for students doing well. For those students, the block would be used to focus on reading enrichment or other advanced lessons, Scott said.

Roderick said she, Diaz and Steinmetz would ask teachers for feedback on the plan throughout May and present it to the district’s Curriculum Council in September.

In other business:

• District bus driver John Guerrero spoke to the board during the meeting’s public comment segment, saying he had accrued 50 days of sick leave over his time working for the district. He hopes to retire at the end of the year due to a vertigo diagnosis and said he was told the district would buy back his sick days at $34 a day. He said he has since been denied the payment. Board member Tim Cruz advised the driver to meet with district Superintendent Steve Karlin to further discuss the issue.

• The board accepted Building Controls and Services’ $310,365 bid to upgrade HVAC equipment at Gertrude Walker Elementary School.

• The board approved renovations to the Memorial Stadium running track that will cost approximately $129,200, to be purchased using a state contract.

• Tracy Johnson, director of nutrition services, presented more information about the district’s meal policy options, particularly that of alternative meals for overdrawn accounts, for next year. After much discussion, the board agreed to keep the current meal policy for the next school year, with the condition that Johnson conduct surveys and gather data from students about their eating habits, among other information. The board will approve an official plan at its next meeting.

• Glenda LaBarbera, soon-to-be director of special education, Lisa Southern, executive director of Compass Behavioral Health and Megan Garcia, Compass regional director, presented a mental health pilot program the district will implement next year.