Parents, students voice concerns about Fort Wayne Community Schools’ possible plans regarding honors classes
Twenty-six parents and students stepped up to the microphone Monday night at the Fort Wayne Community Schools board of school trustees meeting, nearly all of them to voice concern about a proposal to teach high-ability and lower-ability students in the same classrooms.
The new approach, which FWCS is considering as a way to help all students meet new, more challenging proposed state graduation requirements, would replace separate honors classes offered just for higher-ability students.
“I want my kid to have the education,” parent Jennifer Matthias said of maintaining honors classes during her comments to the school board during a nearly three-hour, standing-room-only meeting at Grile Administrative Center.
Matthias, whose four children include one high school graduate, a senior at Snider High School, a seventh-grader and a fourth-grader, was one of a few parents who said they would pull their children out of FWCS if the school district ends the separate honors classes offered now.
The questions came after a lengthy PowerPoint presentation by FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson, who laid out for the school board the challenges the district faces in implementing what details are available now for proposed new graduation pathways.
The slideshow and related handouts can be viewed at the FWCS website at https://www.fortwayneschools.org/academic_services/graduation-pathway.php.
FORMULATING A PLAN
Monday’s presentation is just the start of a community conversation that will place over the next few months and years as FWCS moves to implement steps to get students ready to meet the new graduation requirements, Robinson said. The first step will be for the state to finalize the requirements and the details of the pathways to graduate, she said.
The new graduation requirements, which are scheduled to take effect in fall 2018, are being pushed on school districts by the Indiana Board of Education and state legislature, Robinson and school board members stressed. Current seventh-graders would be the first students to graduate under the new requirements in 2023.
The basics of Robinson’s presentation include:
• FWCS will have to start earlier to prepare students to meet the graduation standards, possibly adding full-day pre-kindergarten, starting Algebra I in eighth grade rather than ninth, and working with students beginning in elementary school to prepare them for more difficult classes in middle and high school.
• The school district must redesign and increase the difficulty of classes throughout the grade levels to better prepare students for more advanced work in high school.
• FWCS must continue to push higher-ability students to their potential while also raising up the performances of students at the low end of the academic scale.
• Teachers will need additional training to accomplish all that will be asked of them.
PARENTS’ AND STUDENTS’ CONCERNS
Many parents and students expressed similar concerns about the possible changes:
• Teachers in classes of higher-ability and lower-performing students won’t have time to challenge the better students.
• Students who don’t want to be in school or who don’t care about their grades will disrupt classes or discourage higher-ability students from working to their potential.
• Students who want to be challenged academically may be overwhelmed if they try to take an Advanced Placement-level class rather than the honors-level classes offered now.
• Students with disabilities or who are more challenged academically could be left behind or made fun of while in classes with high-ability students.
“We believe we can pull it off,” Krista Stockman, FWCS’ public information officer, said of balancing the needs of higher-ability and lower-performing students in the same classroom.
In the past, lower-performing students may not have received encouragement to try more-challenging classes, Stockman said. When given that opportunity under the new system, the district believes many will rise to the occasion.
However, based on the parent and student comments at Monday’s meeting, FWCS has a lot of communicating to do to explain higher-ability students’ education won’t be “watered down” in the attempt to raise up the performances of all students, she said.
“We think if we start younger, we really can prepare kids for the challenges ahead,” she said.
Some things will stay the same and some things will change under the state’s proposed new graduation pathways plan:
• Strengthening content learned in English and Math
• Providing more training for teachers
• Improving academic and emotional support for students
What’s not changing:
• Graduating with a diploma with an honors distinction, though the state still needs to resolve what it takes to earn that distinction
• Continuing programs of study at high schools, such as biomedical and engineering
• Offering Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate program, dual-credit classes earning high school and college credit hours, and Career and Technical Education
• Maintaining a magnet school program
• Emphasizing fine arts and extracurricular activities