During the past few weeks, there has been increased debate and discussion within our community about District 97’s potential purchase of the Fast ForWord program. While the viewpoints expressed have varied, the underlying goal has been the same — to do what is in the best interest of kids. This goal is the driving force behind every decision I make as the lead educator of our district. It is also the reason I am strongly recommending that we implement this program in our schools.
Our extensive study of Fast ForWord during the past year has already produced positive results for a number of the children we serve. For example, of the 86 students who participated in the pilot program we conducted last summer, approximately 71 percent showed gains. This statistic, while impressive, only scratches the surface of what I believe we can accomplish through the development and execution of a comprehensive implementation plan that supports our robust curriculum and complements the extraordinary work being done by our expert staff.
Some critics of Fast ForWord have stated that there is no “magic bullet” for effectively dealing with some of the serious issues our schools face. I could not agree more. This program is not intended to serve that purpose, nor is it “another reading program” as some have suggested. Instead, it is a family of research-based, intervention software products designed to strengthen attention, memory, processing and language development, and also enhance cognitive skills that enable users to process information with greater speed and accuracy. For our struggling students, Fast ForWord will serve as a valuable resource that will aid their efforts to overcome the academic hurdles they encounter on a daily basis. For our more successful students, this program will be an important tool that will enable them to process information faster and more accurately to maximize learning.
I realize, especially in this economy, that spending $477,550 on any initiative will raise questions and concerns. First, while this program aligns with our mission and my vision for the district, it is in no way tied to the recent passage of the referendum. Second, the District 97 Board of Education and the administration remain committed to exercising the same sound fiscal management we have for the past decade, which included making $1.3 million in reductions this year to improve the efficiency of the district’s operations and enhance the educational experience for our students. Lastly, I subscribe to the same philosophy as our local business leaders regarding making decisions that will generate a significant return on investment. From what I have witnessed firsthand in our district and elsewhere, I believe purchasing a program that will help our children reach their full potential is worth the investment of dollars.
One of the things I said at the start of my tenure here is that we cannot simply be satisfied with maintaining the status quo. That is the basis for my recommendation regarding Fast ForWord. It is also why I plan to commission a thorough audit of our curriculum so we can measure the effectiveness of our programs. The findings of the audit will be made available once it is completed.
I want to thank everyone who has shared their insight and feedback regarding the Fast ForWord program. It is through this kind of productive dialogue that we can help our children continue to excel both in and out the classroom. For those individuals who are interested in learning more about the Fast ForWord program, we have created a page on our website (www.op97.org) that features all of the reports we have produced and data we have collected to date.
Thank you for your continued commitment to education and support of our schools.
Dr. Al Roberts is the superintendent of District 97.
Answer Book 2019
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