School district focusing on high achievers

POULSBO — Students at North Kitsap schools will have more opportunities for accelerated learning next year. But not all parents are happy about the changes, or lack thereof.

The district announced March 25 that, based on recommendations made by high school and middle school principals, it will institute new programs at the secondary level for students referred to as “high achieving.”

Some families are not convinced the district is doing enough.

“This district has teachers who can hold their own when compared to teachers anywhere in this nation, let alone the surrounding districts,” said parent Suzanne Christman. “Yet the district’s current philosophy is denying students access to the kind of high-standard instruction needed by so many in order to be prepared to fulfill their highest potential.”

While the district will keep its advanced placement courses, it will also add an “honors designation” to some classes.

Advanced placement classes are standardized college courses taken at the high school level. Students can earn an “honors designation” in regular classes if they choose to take on extra, more rigorous work.

The honors designation — also called embedded honors — is different from an actual honors class. Honors classes are not standardized like AP courses, but offer similar accelerated curriculum, developed by teachers.

Some parents fear that an “honors designation” will mean students merely take on a larger workload, and not necessarily a deeper, more meaningful study of course materials. They want the district to offer full-fledged honors courses, especially for students preparing to take AP classes as juniors and seniors.

“I guess you could say we are looking for classes that demand hard work and pay students back with knowledge and skills,” Christman said. “Honors in name only is useless to our students.”

Honors designations are already used in some classes at Kingston Middle School, and will be available in classes at Poulsbo Middle School beginning in the 2010-11 school year. The designations will also be added to pre-AP English classes at the two high schools.

The district will also offer more English electives at the high schools, allow middle schoolers to take advanced classes at the high schools, improve the training of teachers and examine the methods of neighboring school districts.

Some parents would like the district to wait at least a year before reinstating honors courses. A group of parents from North Kitsap High presented a letter to the district on Feb. 15, asking that the district delay adding honors courses until the students and teachers have had time to adjust to the new professional learning community bell schedule instituted last September.

“We are not asking that the discussion of what is best for our highly capable and gifted students be stopped,” the letter stated. “... All we are asking for is a chance to develop our current model, still in its infancy, and then make the best decisions, based on data, regarding what is best for everyone.”

School board member Kathleen Dassel said there is no conflict between honors courses and the PLC schedule, but the board has not yet decided if and when honors classes will be reinstated.

“The administration re-affirmed at the last board meeting that PLCs and Honors classes can co-exist and are not incompatible,” she said. “The board is still studying the honors program and we have reached no decision.”

The district will continue to use the professional learning community schedule next year. As part of the schedule, teachers take time to meet and share ideas for better teaching methods two or three mornings a week. Students are assigned to tutorial periods on those mornings, during which they may work on schoolwork or participate in clubs or activities.

Several parents have worried that such a schedule allows students too much down time and not enough productive classroom time. The district plans to make more academic opportunities (or “enrichment opportunities”) available to students during tutorial periods.

“The enrichment opportunities are still being developed and (will) be implemented by the fall,” District Spokeswoman Robyn Chastain said. “They will focus around preparing the student for success in AP classes.”

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