Mountain Brook Schools Curriculum Process

  • This article appeared in the November 2022 issue of the City of Mountain Brook's The Reporter newspaper.

  • November 1, 2022 -- What is the totality of the experiences that occur in the educational process? “Curriculum” refers to the set of learning goals and standards educators have devised that allow them to best promote student learning. But what is the curriculum? And how is it established in Mountain Brook Schools?

    “I think those in our community who have not been involved in curriculum development would be surprised and impressed by what a thorough and wide-ranging process it is,” said Dr. Missy Brooks, Director of Instruction at Mountain Brook Schools. “It is about as close as one can get to the heart of what we’re about as a learning organization, and we are proud of the way we engage people in the process.”

    The Alabama Department of Education periodically revises and updates content standards in each of the Alabama Courses of Study. There are standards for Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Arts Education, Career/Technical Education, Driver and Traffic Safety Education, Health, World Languages, and Physical Education, among others.

    “When we receive a new and revised set of standards,” said Dr. Brooks, “our local task is to develop curriculum and to adopt materials that best suit our students. It is important that the process creates educational programs which are consistent with our purpose to provide an effective, challenging, and engaging education for every one of our students. Working with the standards is always done before any implementation of the curriculum takes place”

    To accomplish this, the school system establishes curriculum committees. Their work is extensive and painstaking and the process of developing curriculum for a given academic area can require much of an academic year. These committees include faculty, parents and, when possible, students. 

    “This is an important part of how we accomplish curriculum development,” said Dr. Dicky Barlow, Superintendent of Mountain Brook Schools. “These are large committees with broad representation from both the school community and the Mountain Brook community at large. And it’s not a short process, because there is much to do and much to consider.”

    In any given academic year, it is typical for a curriculum committee to be in the process of reviewing and revising curriculum for one of the major academic areas. The academic area up next for revision and adoption will be Science, as the Alabama Board of Education is expected to vote on new standards for science education next school year.

    According to Brooks, shortly after the new standards are passed, the school system will form a committee consisting of teachers, media specialists, counselors, principals, central office administrators, parents, students, and community members with relevant expertise.

    The committee, often working in subcommittees, will gather and analyze data including needs assessments and student performance data. Groups will also collect and review research in science education. 

    “We will study the state guidelines and relevant publications and materials provided by professional associations,” said Dr. Brooks. “We will do a search for the best practices and best ideas out there.”

    Early on, the school system will identify professional development needs for teachers. This often includes bringing in experts in instructional methods for the particular subject being reviewed.

    Subcommittees will develop an instructional framework that includes the school system’s philosophy, goals, and specific academic objectives. Ultimately, teachers will develop course content sequences and assessments, allowing for flexibility at the level of each classroom to meet the needs of individual students.

    “The goal is always to develop an alignment of standards from grade to grade with the freedom for individual teachers to employ different materials and methods to meet the needs of students,” said Dr. Brooks. “That’s the idea behind the use of the term ‘instructional framework.’ The basic structure is there, but at the level of each classroom, there’s room for how the individual teacher will accomplish the learning goals.”

    Once the instructional framework is drafted and presented to the Board of Education, school staff, students, parents, and the community are provided an opportunity to comment on the proposed framework. After reviewing that input, the committee finalizes the recommendation. The Mountain Brook Schools Board of Education then votes on approval of the instructional framework.

    Once approval has been obtained, the next steps involve the selection of resources and materials for instruction, a phase referred to as “materials adoption.” This is a similarly extensive process, which leads to a separate review and approval by the Board.

    Shannon Marks is a member of the English department at Mountain Brook High School and was involved in the curriculum adoption process for English Language Arts (ELA) in the school district last school year.

    “We met consistently to talk through curricular decisions in every grade in order to ensure that we were making thoughtful, intentional choices,” Marks said. “We had solid plans in place by the end of last school year so that teachers could work together over the summer to be ready and confident to deliver new instruction this year.”

    Throughout the year post-curriculum implementation, MBS Professional Learning Communities (PLCs - grade level/subject groups) meet on a regular basis to discuss the fulfillment of the new curriculum. Additional professional development is provided if PLCs find it necessary.

    “What I learned through this process is that we can’t underestimate the importance of preparedness,” Marks said. “This was as smooth as it could be when a group of people are undergoing the level of change that we were.”