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Board hears proposal for high schools

The Carroll County school board got its first look last night at proposals that would streamline sequenced high school courses, allow more students to take honors-level classes and require next year's freshmen to take a class in personal finance to earn a diploma.

The sequencing changes, school administrators said, would open the doors of rigorous classes to students who traditionally have been shut out of the school system's most challenging academic offerings, including advanced placement classes.

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"We do put up barriers," Steven Johnson, the school system's director of curriculum and instruction, told board members. "There are students who you'd think after ninth grade that it's going to take divine intervention to help them graduate, and they just blossom. Why should we hold them back?"

The way high school classes are sequenced now, middle school pupils who are not funneled into accelerated classes - through assessments and teacher recommendations - will not be eligible to take an advanced placement English course in high school, Johnson explained in an interview after his presentation to the board.

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"They could just never get there," he said. "If this is approved, if a kid gets to high school and decides he really loves English, he can jump" to the honors sequence and make it into the upper echelon of course offerings before graduation.

The proposal also would remove the school system's two lowest levels of course offerings from the choices students consider when registering for classes each year. Schools would still schedule the lower-level classes, but high-schoolers would be registered for them only as an intervention for struggling students and only at the direction of their teachers.

School board members praised many of the recommendations.

Phil Grapes, a Liberty High School senior who is the board's student representative, said he particularly liked the provision that allows more students into honors classes.

"It's very true about kids being told they can't take an AP course," he said. "I'm just trying to remember when kids start believing they can't do anything. There is an age when they believe they can do anything. Then they reach a point where they start questioning" and when they start being told no.

Past restrictions on advanced placement and other honors classes have been meant to discourage students, Johnson said.

"I don't think teachers have been doing it to be mean," he said. "They don't want to set kids up for what they perceive to be failure. But for a highly motivated kid, why should we say no, they can't do that. I have a philosophy of teaching up. Don't teach down to kids. Teach up."

Some school board members expressed skepticism about the personal finance class proposal.

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If approved, all students - beginning with next year's freshman class - would be required to successfully complete the half-credit finance course during 11th or 12th grade. The course would count toward the six career-focus credits that Carroll schools require toward earning a high school diploma.

Board member C. Scott Stone characterized the proposal as a "super idea," but added, "I don't think the board is going to be inclined to add graduation requirements."

A board vote on the high school curriculum is scheduled for an Oct. 8 meeting.


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