School board dumps BHS honors classes, 5-2
A 5-2 vote against adding two honors classes at Baldwin High School ended an extensive discussion between the Baldwin Board of Education and many educators Monday night.
After the 90-minute debate, the board voted to not add Honors Geometry and Honors World History to the curriculum next year. Board Members Ruth Barkley and Bill Busby voted to add the classes.
"I am very disappointed for those students who were expecting to participate in those classes," Barkley said. "I am also disappointed for those teachers who followed what had been standard protocol to add those classes. It's unfortunate that they will be missing those opportunities, both as students and teachers."
Board Member Scott Lauridsen thought the debate was well handled and helped bring the subject to light.
"It was good, only because the discussion was around what's best for all of the kids," Lauridsen said of the debate. "Everything we discussed there was around that. Everybody involved in the discussion wants to do what's best for the kids. It was a great discussion."
Supt. James White said the two classes were added to the BHS curriculum for next year, but were not yet put into the schedule at BHS.
"We had two or three disciplines add honors classes for this year," White said. "As we looked at some of the issues regarding this, we had questions. I guess the problem is that we didn't have a process for adding these classes."
Busby brought the topic to the school board Monday, wanting some answers.
"I found that people at the high school were uniformly acceptive of this," Busby said of the classes. "Everyone I have talked to has stood up and been in favor of these classes."
Several Baldwin City residents attended the meeting and spoke up about the need for honors classes at BHS. Those people were Dave Wagner, Grace Schroer and BHS senior Lynne Lammers.
At the beginning of the discussion, Board Member Alison Bauer tried making sense of the issue.
"It seems like we offered the classes, had kids sign up for them and then we took them away and said the process was failed, so you can't take the classes," Bauer said.
Curriculum Director Connie Wehmeyer spoke about the process that was taken to add the classes and how the classes would create tracks between students.
"If you put those classes into our high school, whether you like it or not, you are creating two separate tracks," Wehmeyer said. "Tracking is not something you want in our school."
After Wehmeyer's talk about the research side of honors classes, the board listened to BHS social studies teacher Kathleen Sigvaldson and BHS math teacher Mike Curran.
Sigvaldson spoke about the Honors World History class and how it offered a chance to challenge upper-level students. She also said that the Advanced Placement classes offered help bridge the students apart.
She didn't know if offering the honors courses were best for the students, but she wanted to take a shot at it.
"We don't know that this is the best idea, but we sure would like to try," Sigvaldson said.
Then Curran began explaining the reason for the math department's need of an honors course. He talked about how an Honors Algebra II class has been running for two years now with success.
Curran said 15-20 percent of eighth graders take Algebra I then Honors Algebra II, but then go back down with everyone else at Geometry.
"We've got the lower end taken care of," Curran said. "I think if we want to stretch the upper group and help the middle class, then this is the best way to do it."
Busby agreed, saying these classes should be able to run next year.
"I would recommend that we proceed with these classes for next year," Busby said. "We have been doing this for two years now and the world hasn't ended."
Wehmeyer argued for the opposite.
"I think my recommendation is to take the time to solve this issue and then make a decision about the future at a later date," Wehmeyer said.
Baldwin Junior High School Assistant Principal Joe Gresnick said that the problem should be resolved in the Professional Learning Communities.
White said he never heard any mention of honors classes during his PLC.
"I was part of the math PLC and it was never discussed," White said. "They may have discussed it at the high school, but it was never discussed at our PLC."
After the vote, the board did not take any further action on how to improve the BHS curriculum, but will continue to discuss it further at later meetings.