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Parents Voice Concerns at Meeting on Annapolis High Changes

AHS officials present plan for heterogeneous mixing of all freshmen and plans to offer a school-wide International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and Advanced Placement classes.

If something is not broken, then why fix it? That was the sentiment echoed at Annapolis High School (AHS) Wednesday night as parents questioned instructional changes slated for this fall.

A new plan will heterogeneously open freshman honors classes (except math) to all students instead of grouping students by ability. This fall, AHS will offer a school-wide International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), as well as Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the IB Diploma Programme. A ninth grade Parent Advisory Group will form, as well.

At the , Regional Assistant Superintendent Christopher Truffer lauded the staff and curriculum at the school, citing how Annapolis High School .

The rating is found by dividing the number of AP, IB or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors—but doesn't actually measure quality.

"While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college," according to the article.

Parents questioned why improvements were needed if things were running so smoothly at AHS.

“Your role is to look through the lens of what’s best for your child,” Truffer said. “My role is what’s best for every child.”

AHS Principal Donald Lilley equated the situation to Charles Darwin’s philosophy that a species must adapt to its environment to survive.

“We need to change in order to serve all of our students’ needs in a global society,” he said.

The idea for the instructional change stems from an IB Access Grant the
school received two years ago for ninth and 10th grade, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant includes a stipend for the selected teachers and funding for after-school training and peer coaching.

Kristina Korona, IB MYP coordinator, said this training will naturally extend to the classroom setting.

“As the year went on, it seemed like the next logical step,” Korona said.

Social studies teachers Chris Hinsvark and Lindsay Laupp performed a trial run of heterogeneous grouping in their classrooms. Both cited success stories from that experience and presented data collected during an eight-week period.

“I think this class forced us to teach to the top,” Laupp said. “Students want to be just as successful as their peers.”

Hinsvark noted an improvement in his classes as well, citing homework and participation examples. The largest difference, he said, was in social interaction.

“When we analyze news, it helps to have multiple perspectives in the class with diverse reactions,” Hinsvark said.

Kim Jakovics, AHS social studies department chairman, said there are teenagers who deserve the opportunity that honors classes offer.

Lilley said mixing classes teachers and staff can push the students do more.

“We do not believe all of our students at AHS are achieving their potential—even those at the top,” Lilley said.

There were so many questions during the presentation that parents were asked to write them down to submit to a moderator. Some questions were answered at the meeting, and officials said others will be addressed later on the school's website.

One question concerned what would happen to average students who might struggle to keep up with the workload involved in honors classes. Students will be offered many options for support, as well as "tiered assignments."

Lilley said support programs, such as AVID, and seminar courses will help those teens. Other options include the Ninth Grade Academy, PBIS, Summer Bridge, mentoring, Homework Harbor, Panther Cafe, Twilight School and help days, he said.

One parent said she was concerned what would happen to current honor students.

“For the standard kid, this is an awesome opportunity,” said Stacey Corse. “But I’m afraid that they are not going to raise the bar.”

Another parent said she felt she was left out of the decision-making process.

“I was surprised about the lack of information on their part,” said Sarah Williamson. “But they are trying now.”

Korona said the announcement was delayed because they were awaiting decisions from central office and content collaborations.

“I wish it could have been earlier to get more parent involvement,” she said.

Another meeting is slated for June 8 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Truffer said no final decision has been made on this proposal.

More information can be found on the school’s website.

Lisa Pline May 27, 2011 at 12:45 AM
The meeting last night was very disappointing. Parents were treated like naughty children instead of potential partners in how to address the very difficult problem of how to provide the best educational opportunities for Annapolis' very diverse student population. Asked for questions ahead of time, as Bates Middle PTA president, I submitted a list of 17 questions. NONE of them were answered with anything more than anecdotes. Before engaging in wholesale change to what has been a successful program, parents want EVIDENCE that it will work and want to be INVOLVED in the process. The "pilot" was too small and not completed (only 26 students and for only 8 weeks) and only in one curriculum area. Parents have been going to AHS Informational nights since December, and NO mention of this new strategy was mentioned. Parents feel that this information was intentionally withheld, since the plans for this have been underway for some time. Ironically, one of the main messages from the AHS Administration was "trust us". So far, the actions of AHS in this matter have only fostered distrust. Bottom line: PLEASE PILOT THIS IDEA FIRST. There is a new and involved parent and community base coming up through AHS. I have seen it at Bates and it is coming your way, AHS! We want to do what is best for all our children. We are willing to work with the AHS Administration to address the needs of ALL the students who attend AHS. TRUST US!
Julie L. Kizer Ball May 27, 2011 at 11:19 AM
A new way to do things every year? Come on. What AACPS seems to be forgetting is that this is the first year they have been able to see the benefit of just one of programs they put in place at the middle schools. The current 9th grader class has the 1st MYP cohort from AMS in it. Next year the incoming 9th graders will have benefited from whole-school MYP or whole school art integration. Add this to the fact that AHS is whole school MYP for 9-10 and you will see positive changes all around. Let's focus on what already is in place and get that right.
Heather Macintosh May 27, 2011 at 11:59 AM
This is not the way I want to start my relationship with my kids' future high school. I had hoped to go in well-prepared to embrace the IB program and support the teachers and staff who have been working so hard to achieve success. Instead, in May, parents, teachers and staff are at odds over a radical and un-tested change in educational philosophy.
Rebecca White May 27, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Under the heading Instructional changes for 2011-2012, the AHS school website has this, "In the 2010-11 school year we piloted this concept with two Social Studies Government classes and one honors English class. The results were quite positive as our students made strides in their academic performance and gained confidence, now viewing themselves as learners. It was enough to motivate us to implement this school wide. We’ll begin next year with our 9th grade." That is what you write when you've already made your decision, separately and without inviting community conversation. While I applaud the passion for achieving better success for all students, an 8-week pilot with a small group of 9th graders should not be the basis for this decision.
Julie L. Kizer Ball May 28, 2011 at 11:58 AM
AACPS needs to raise the bar for all its students: this I do not dispute. The title on the hand out from the May 25th meeting at AHS, indicates we were at "Collaborative Planning Session 1." We were told to trust them. The only collaboration in my opinion was during the after meeting as some parents stayed and asked questions and discussed with those AACPS employees who stayed behind. But where will that dialog end up? We were also told that the decision would be announced at the next meeting on June 8th. This is not a collaboration. The HOW is what I am disputing. ALL parents need to be invited to the table. As we are told time and time again education is a partnership. How did AACPS advertise for this meeting? Did Bates, AMS and the out-of-area incoming 9th graders get a ConnectEd call? I did not. I knew about the meeting through the PTA. Why should I trust them?
Sam May 28, 2011 at 02:03 PM
"Honors" defined by the dictionary: an academic distinction conferred on a superior student; a course of study for superior students supplementing or replacing a regular one. By definition, not everyone can be an honors student. The school should throw away the "honors" label because it will no longer apply to either the students or the classes. Raise the bar for all students please, but do something more proactive than just applying a new label. The classes at AHS next year should be called "regular" classes because that is what they will be. Let's also be honest that most of the kids don't want to be in honors classes anymore than they want to be in the IB/MYP. They would have applied to IB if they wanted to be in it, but the school made that choice for them by making the whole school MYP for 9th & 10th graders.

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