Board weighs freshman waiver


The Carroll County school board is considering a proposal that would exempt some ninth-graders from attending a required class on skills such as time management, career planning and portfolio development.

The freshman seminar class made its debut to positive reviews in August 2000 at Westminster and South Carroll high schools and has been incorporated into the curriculum at all seven county high schools. But some parents and teachers have complained that the course - which freshmen must pass before they can be promoted to the 10th grade - is a waste of time, tangles class schedules and bogs down students who are interested in and ready for more advanced classes.

"My feeling is that we need to make some adjustments in response to those concerns," Barry Gelsinger, the assistant superintendent of instruction, told school board members at a meeting yesterday afternoon.

The proposed change would allow high school principals to waive students' attendance in the class if they agree to independently complete the four minimum requirements of freshman seminar: developing a four-year educational and career plan; identifying their strengths, weaknesses, interests and aptitudes; setting short-term and long-term educational and career goals; and developing and refining a personal portfolio.

Students with scheduling conflicts or other reasons for not wanting to take the class would have to complete those tasks on their own, perhaps with the help of an online version of freshman seminar that school officials hope to have ready by the fall.

The waiver, in essence, would exempt those ninth-graders from the "seat time" but not the course's most important content, said Gregory Eckles, the school system's high schools director.

School board President Susan Holt questioned whether the proposed changes were enough. She noted that the course originally was discussed as a graduation requirement, then changed to a promotion prerequisite and now could be waived altogether, and asked whether the course was needed at all.

"I'm wondering, is this a course for everybody?" she said. "I think that was the question asked."

Holt also expressed concern that putting the onus of the waivers on principals would unnecessarily burden them and put them on "the front lines" of an issue that could pit the school administration against incoming freshmen and their families before they walk through the doors of the high school.

Gelsinger said that none of the seven high school principals had expressed such a concern. Five were adamant about maintaining the freshman seminar class exactly as it is, Gelsinger said.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal at a future board meeting, perhaps as early as next month.

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