The Anchorage School District this year is rolling out its second installation of new curriculum for elementary school students -- but not without concerns.

Last school year it was brought out for kindergarten through second grades, this year the focus is on third through fifth grade.

Teachers around the district are frustrated with the implementation of this year's curriculum and claim it puts too much on their plates. 

"Change is hard," said Timothy Andrew, Creekside Park Elementary's principal. "We recognize that. You go from having a program and set of materials that you have taught for 10-plus years that you know inside and out, you don’t have to focus as much on the materials."

To help with the transition, the district hired curriculum consultant Jennifer Ashlock, who actually designed much of the curriculum to help with the transition process.

"Most instructional materials have way more than you could ever get done in a 60 or 90-minute block," Ashlock said. "I always say that every publication has a thumbprint of research; I’m trained in the research so I can say this is the research piece."

Ashlock took part in a learning walk, which gives teachers feedback on their practice and craft. Instructional coaches and principals are instrumental in making sure changes go smoothly, and all ASD principals have received professional development from Ashlock since last year.

"That’s a lot of what I am working on with the principals and coaches, how to differentiate within the system," Ashlock said. "I think the district is still in the process of working out all those plans."

Many educators and parents still wonder, however, why teachers can't decide how to implement the new curriculum. For Abbott Loop Elementary principal Arthur Sosa, it's important that students can move between schools and still understand their programs.

"I can tell you being at the high school how many times students stopped coming to high school, because in their science class they were not able to understand the information," Sosa said. "Some ended up dropping out."

That goal can be difficult in a diverse district where students come from many cultures and languages, as well as communities across the state.

"There is no question about that, but we find ways to be flexible and creative," Andrew said. "A lot of the kids know the material; they just need it translated into their native language sometimes. Once that happens, the light bulb goes on."

"There's important pieces in vocabulary and comprehension that we need all students to have based on standards," Ashlock said. "Just because a student can’t read 'cat' doesn’t mean they can't understand what 'meander' means."  

Another issue is ASD's implementation of the plan, which opponents call a one-size-fits-all method whether kids know their basic colors or can read a Harry Potter book from cover to cover. If you're a parent whose kid reads well, some say your child is not being challenged or served properly under this system.

"We’re going to give most kids access to grade-level content," Ashlock said. "My job as a consultant is to show them how to make it accessible. So if you have a third grader still learning to read and you have content that they can’t read, we’ll work with the coaches on how to make that accessible. We have a second block that is to build them up to get them to where they can read and a third block for the more advanced."

Teachers who feel they don't have enough time are reminded that once they get the implementation down, there is plenty of time to get creative.

Twenty minutes in each 90-minute reading block features children reading at their level. It’s called “time in text” and leaves the remaining 70 minutes which is differentiated.

"Teachers are still learning and haven't had all the training yet," Ashlock said. "We're helping the teachers understand all the important pieces they have. There is also a large number of flex days where they have opportunities for more freedom in how they teach."

Change can bring a lot of fear and anxiety, but the district felt change had to happen sooner rather than later. 

"The materials they had in the past did not have Common Core standards in them, so that’s all new," Ashlock said. "Teachers knew they were accountable to standards but it wasn’t infused into the materials they had. It’s going to take time but we’ve already heard a lot of good comments from teachers in the classrooms who are starting to see how this is helping them but that first year is so hard."

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