A series of investments in teaching strategies and classroom materials were approved by the District 91 school board, reaffirming for administrators their efforts to revamp the curriculum.

During the board’s April 9 meeting, there was unanimous support to spend $55,000 to extend a contract for a recently instituted reading program. In return, the schools expect teachers in grades three, four and five will learn how to implement SLANT, a reading program that has been credited with enormous gains in the lower grade levels.

According to standardized test scores released in 2008, third-graders who participated in the SLANT program as second-graders saw an overall jump in reading comprehension. Sixty-six percent of those students were reading at grade level as second-graders, but 80 percent were hitting proficiency benchmarks the following year.

“It is the best professional development model I’ve ever seen,” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said.

When Cavallo joined Forest Park’s public schools in 2007, he said an emphasis on reading would ultimately boost learning in other subject areas. The recently approved contract for the 2009-10 school year is part of that strategy.

“This is the last big ticket, if you will, with SLANT,” Cavallo said during the board meeting.

Teachers in the district that have been certified in the SLANT program have said it is a difficult, sometimes overwhelming process. However, many have said the results are validating. According to Cavallo, the teachers have asked for more of this training because it is so effective.

Also approved by board members this month is the purchase of new reading materials for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The books, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, are part of an overall revision of the reading curriculum and will cost the district more than $199,300. In negotiating for the purchase of these materials, administrators secured $168,000 in free materials.

Samples of the books for each grade level were on display at the district’s administrative office for a month prior to the board’s April 9 vote. In March, Principal Wendy Trotter of Grant-White Elementary outlined for the board how teachers and administrators selected this particular series of books. That process, said Cavallo, has taken roughly a year.

Board members also voted unanimously to allocate $8,622 to send several dozen middle school students to a week of camp just before the start of the coming school year. Annually, students with leadership potential are selected by their peers to travel to Lake Geneva, Wis., with several teachers. The outdoor activities are designed with a focus on personal development and problem solving, according to a district memo asking board members to support the trip.

“Upon returning to school, students get involved and apply their leadership skills,” Joe Pisano, an eighth-grade social studies teacher said in a written proposal. “They demonstrate leadership in the classroom, in extracurricular activities, and in the community.”

As many as 42 students will attend this summer.