July 28, 2011 by wcobserver
New Hire Charged with Challenging the “System”
By Susan McCarthy
WEST FORK – A former West Fork High School math teacher has returned in a new start-up role that has charged him with developing new ways to connect the numerous ways kids learn to how material is being taught in the classroom.
Lester Long officially began his new role as District Curriculum Administrator for the West Fork School District on July 1. His office is next door to the school superintendent, John Karnes, a signal of the weight his title will carry as he tackles his duties across grades K-12.
“He’s had the same job in Fayetteville and is bringing in all of this experience,” said Karnes.
Long has served as the Director of Curriculum of Instruction and Assessment and Accountability for the Fayetteville School District since 2003. And while that sounds like a position only the larger school districts might fund, both Long and Karnes say other smaller districts like Farmington and Prairie Grove have also dedicated staff to building curriculum around how students learn.
Karnes says that Long’s sole mission will be centered on assessment and curriculum.
“His focus in these areas should reap big dividends in student learning. This is one of the biggest steps, most critical steps we could take in our district,” said Karnes who added his schools operates without an assistant superintendent or any assistant principals.
Long says his role is one of collaboration and he will be working closely with teachers to develop new forms of student assessment to identify what kids need and then finding creative ways in the classroom to meet those needs.
“I grew up in extreme poverty,” said Long, who is from Helena, Arkansas. “I’m an advocate for at risk kids; that’s the biggest part of my job.”
Long said part of his role is in challenging the current, established systems and striving for change.
“Our clientele are the kids. Our students in the system have to be the center of the conversation,” said Long.
In his first couple of weeks on the job, Long says he has already begun meeting with teachers at all grade levels. He said teachers are really good about knowing what is needed, but haven’t had someone fully dedicated to making that happen before.
“Things are going to change in education,” said Karnes who said Long will be instrumental in helping the school transition from the current state standards to the new Common Core standards that begin rolling out in grades K-2 this year.
Long said this transition is about moving from learning skills to how well students think, write and communicate. He said future assessment will be based on how much an individual student grows year to year throughout his education.
Long was a high school math teacher in West Fork for seven years before leaving to take the curriculum leadership position in Fayetteville.
“West Fork is where I learned to teach,” said Long, whose first job out of college was as a math teacher in West Helena for a year.
Except for two years, Long and his family have made West Fork their home for the past 18 years and he said that was one of the contributing reasons he wanted to return to the West Fork School District. Long said he wanted his two children, who will enter the third and sixth grades next year, to attend school in the community in which they live. He said because of logistics, they’ve attended school in Fayetteville and he’s excited they can attend school with their friends next year.
Long is wrapping up his doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and expects to be finished by December. His dissertation is based on a computer-based assessment model that predicts student success on high stake exams, like the Benchmark exams.
In his spare time, Long enjoys baking and was headed home last Friday to bake a wedding cake for his chiropractor. His phone contains photos of a three-dimensional Razorback groom’s cake he made as practice that would rival most any bakery in the area.
Long said he first made a Fourth of July cake 13 or 14 years ago with another West Fork teacher and found a note on his door the next day for a cake decorating class. He said he took the hint, took some classes and has been baking ever since. His daughter, he says, also shares his passion and said he may retake some classes with her.
Long also enjoys gardening, canning and cooking.