Archive for Thursday, November 16, 2006

BHS teachers want voice in curriculum

November 16, 2006

Before any curriculum changes happen at Baldwin High School, many members of the faculty want their opinion included in the discussion.

BHS teachers Ginny Honomichl and Laura Beaulieu made a presentation at Monday's Baldwin Board of Education meeting. It included the information and research that was gathered by the high school staff.

"We had some concerns about choices that were going to be made that could affect us for a long time," Beaulieu said Tuesday.

At the meeting, Honomichl explained to the board what their slide show was displaying. The presentation explained their reasons for their appearance at the meeting, while trying to explain both sides of the issue.

"In our presentation, there were two things," Honomichl said Tuesday. "We are asking the board to have some vision on some things, because they are ultimate decision-making body. When they do that, we all can have vision, whether you like the vision or not doesn't matter. We are all professionals and we go the way the board wants us to go.

"Then I think the second part that we wanted was to have studies by professionals," Honomichl said. "That doesn't necessarily mean that the teachers are the only professionals. I don't think we ever want to intend that what we say is the thing everybody should be listening to, but it shouldn't be the other way either."

The teachers used the science curriculum as the example Monday.

"The reason science was used as an example is because it is the content area of this school that is being reviewed," Honomichl said. "The applications that are most current are the changes that might happen to the science curriculum."

Curriculum Director Connie Wehmeyer had created her alignment of the courses, but the BHS science department had different ideas on the course offerings.

After the presentation, the board took no action, but will consider the information at a later date.

"We are glad to know their opinions and we hold them in high regard," Board President Alison Bauer said. "We will keep them in mind when we make a decision."

The motivation for the presentation came from comments and ideas that Wehmeyer presented to the board at the Oct. 27 work session.

At that meeting, Wehmeyer presented the idea of differentiated instruction and leveling classes. This came as news to the BHS faculty.

"When it was published in the newspaper, we saw the different comments made and we decided it was the time to look at what are our options," Beaulieu said Tuesday.

Honomichl said many faculty members were not happy with how the course offerings at BHS were being chosen.

"We were more concerned with Dr. Wehmeyer's inclusion in the decision making process," Honomichl said. "It seems like, over several disciplines of study, that the opinions of the professionals in the field often times weren't supported.

"It was more of a unilateral decision by the curriculum director that this is the way we are going to go, period," Honomichl said Tuesday. "After a while, you've just got to figure out what's best for all students, whether it looks like what everybody else is doing or not."

Soon after the Oct. 27 meeting, many members of the BHS staff met to discuss their plan of action. Only a few were actually involved in preparing the presentation, but several others contributed to the process.

"Dr. Wehmeyer did provide us with her resources, because we asked for that," Beaulieu said Tuesday. "We looked at that and other things we gathered. We had lots of participation. It was definitely a joint effort by various members of our faculty."

BHS math teacher Mike Spielman was one of the faculty members that helped with the research portion. As printed in their proposal, Spielman said there is research for both sides of the issue, despite the hundreds of studies.

"We found research for and against ability grouping and differentiated instruction," Spielman said Tuesday. "We just tried to present an overall view of the whole process and not just one side of the other. We wanted to make sure all sides were seen and there is good and bad.

"There have been 700 different studies on this," he said. "When it's all said and done, it's a wash. Both sides are pretty even. Both have good and bad points. It just comes down to the district. Is that a philosophy you want to have or not?"

Honomichl went on to say the research states that it would take the teachers several years to be able to teach differentiated instruction properly.

"The research even shows that to put this in, as a veteran teacher, it would take us four to five years to be able to do that and be effective," Honomichl said. "It's huge and for it to become part of the district would take even longer than that. They say five to seven years."

One reason the teachers want to keep the course offerings the same at BHS is because it allows the students to choose what courses they can take.

"In some schools, you are assigned to a class, because of a test score or what a teacher says," Beaulieu said. "You have no choice about what class you take. That's one thing that separates Baldwin High School from other schools. We may give recommendations of what level you might take. But students, their parents and counselors can talk together about what is the best decision for that individual student."

Beaulieu also said that other schools place their less-experienced teachers with the students who achieve low grades, but BHS doesn't make that distinction.

"Another tracking thing was that districts throw the most-inexperienced teachers with a very-low ability class," Beaulieu said. "That doesn't happen here. We have some of our most experienced teachers in classes for students who may struggle in a subject area."

The teachers hope their proposal the board will allow them to have an opinion in the decision-making process.

"It's a process of information sharing," Beaulieu said. "At every level, we know what everybody's input is. It shouldn't stop at certain places. It should be an open discussion. Not that the teachers have more weight than anybody else, but we should be able to be heard."

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