Concerns aired over high school class changes : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Concerns aired over high school class changes|
|Superintendent, board explain plan for instructional study halls|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
A case of wrong information and misunderstandings prompted an estimated 50 Oswego School District high school students and their parents to attend Monday evening's school board meeting.
Students said they had heard rumors that the board was making study halls mandatory at the district's two high schools and that art classes, band, choir and other classes were being eliminated.
Before audience members took to the microphone, board members and Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt worked to squelch the false information, but 15 people still addressed the board.
The subject of study halls and the six-period day were discussed last week at a meeting of the district's Citizen's Advisory Teaching and Learning Committee.
Wendt said at that meeting that the high schools' shift from the block class schedule to the Flex 8 schedule for the current school year had presented some challenges. There were no study halls in the block schedule and only four classes per day.
Flex 8 has seven classes each day and study halls have been added at both high schools, he said. But as of next school year, only six classes will be required. He said students will be allowed-and encouraged to enroll in seven or more classes-but only with their parents' approval.
Students whose grades are lower than expected, should not be enrolled in seven classes the following semester, he said.
Wendt noted there are students for whom six classes are too much.
These are students who need two study halls, he said. They include students from single-parent homes, those who do not have Internet access at home, are at the low end of the economic scale or may not be able to complete very basic assignments.
"The quality of education should not be dictated by where a student lives, the school he or she attends, or where a boundary line is drawn. This is a problem and we need to solve it," Wendt said, noting that the high school administrators are working on it.
He said the district's high school students last semester received an F grade on more than 900 of their classes.
"Too many kids are failing and failure should not be an option. If kids can't make it here, I think you're going to have a difficult time in life. There's no reason-with the resources we have-for any student to fail a class," he said, noting that changes must be made in the system.
Wendt said they believe there should be time for teachers to work with students in non-graded academic support classes.
Board President Bill Walsh said he had received emails concerning six core classes and a study hall. He said parents asked if the district was working to remove classes or downgrade academic achievements.
"That's not it at all. It's actually the opposite. Some students need extra support and this instructional study hall, which is different than what we do today, will not be for 100 kids in a class, but will be focused on instructional support throughout the year," he said.
Students who want to take seven classes and not take a study hall can still do so, Walsh added.
He said having parents give approval for their children to take seven classes will allow students to work with their parents to make these decisions.
"The focus is really on academic achievement and giving support where support is needed. Nothing is focused on taking away classes or the other things we heard rumors about," Walsh said.
Board member Mike Scaramuzzi said his daughter, who is in choir, came home with the same rumors.
"So I asked the choir instructor where he received his information and he said he got it on good authority that this was what was going on," Scaramuzzi said, adding, "I explained to him that we had talked at a previous board meeting that students were being forced to take seven classes and our intent was to not force them to do so but to give them an option to take six if that was what was best for that student.
"And that's all that was discussed. The board did not decide to force students to take a guided study hall or anything else. It is merely an opportunity for a child to take six if they so chose, where today that is not an option.
"When they walk into the building they have no choice but to take seven classes. If they are failing, they're failing. There's no option for them to withdraw and go into a study hall to help themselves with that subject or another," Scaramuzzi said.
He added that parents should sign off on what their kids are doing and classes they are taking.
"There's no conspiracy to shut down band, or choir or get rid of special arts or fine arts. In fact it's the opposite," board member Brent Lightfoot said.
"We're doing this to help kids that need extra help and I expect to see no drop in enrollment in band or choir. It's not going to happen," Lightfoot said.
Scaramuzzi said they spent considerable time with the teachers union during their recent contract negotiations, discussing this special study hall.
"We don't have a name for it, because we don't even know what it's going to be. But it is not going to be the guided study hall we have today. We don't like what's going on in that study hall and the teachers don't like it either," he said.
Board Member Ali Swanson, who was co-chairman of the Teaching and Learning Committee where this issue first came up, said providing support for students does not lower expectations.
"It unites opportunities for high and low achievers. Enriching a child's educational experience ... that is what we are trying to do," she said.
One parent said the students with the high test scores and high GPAs are the ones they should work to keep in schools.
"You don't want to lose their interest because they're the ones going to college," she said.
"I want to keep all kids in school," Swanson added.