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Board briefed on reading program

Hooked on phonics might have been the mantra at Wednesday's Akron Board of Education meeting.

Elementary Reading Specialist Andrea Burtis and kindergarten teacher Karen Stachowiak presented to board members an audio-visual overview of the Orton-Gillingham reading program used in kindergarten and first grade.

The program, developed about 10 years ago by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, a teacher and psychologist, helps pupils develop their phonics, or sounds, skills and in turn reading and writing.

Both staffers said that pupils are showing improvement in gaining reading skills with the program, and Stachowiak said she particularly likes the program because it appeals to all abilities.

"You learn to read in the lower grades, and you read to learn [in the upper]," she said.

She said she was skeptical of the program, when it was introduced last year, but by the end of that year, "I was astounded by the progress."

Burtis said district assessment of kindergarten and first-graders has shown that in the fall of 2006, 62 percent of pupils were at a "benchmark" level; by spring 2007, 85 percent were.

She said that first- and second-grade teachers, and some parents, also have expressed amazement at the reading improvement.

The district is considering expanding the program to second grade, utilizing it with small remedial groups in grades three to five and offering training to middle and high school teachers who can use it for special-education students.

Stachowiak said pupils have also been enthusiastic about the program listing it at No. 5 on a Top 10 list of "Our Favorite Things in Kindergarten."

In other business, the board:

* Heard presentations on next year's transportation and maintenance budgets from department heads John Wideman and Michael Kropelin, respectively. Both cited increases in fuel and other petroleum products as contributing to increases of 5 to 6.5 percent in several categories of their suggested budgets. Details were not made public.

* Cynthia Tretter, district treasurer, noted that the Town of Newstead and Village of Akron are considering increasing the senior citizen property tax exemption to $21,500, from $15,500, and recommended that the school district follow suit. The town and village have held public hearings on the senior citizen tax exemption but have not yet taken final action. Both had been considering just a $2,500 increase, but senior citizens at the hearings said that was too little, noting that adjacent municipalities had higher exemptions.

* Set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Dec. 4 in the auditorium of the school complex on the district's proposed $23.3 million capital project that includes infrastructure improvements and space enhancements for the music, special education and physical education programs. A referendum will be held Dec. 13.

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