A number of parents Monday, Jan. 28, urged Pickerington Local School District officials to maintain "honors" classes after the district implements its new state-mandated curriculum.
Approximately 20 parents of students in the district attended a Pickerington Board of Education Monday morning at Heritage Elementary School.
Most were there to address rumors which began circulating in the community Friday, Jan. 25, after district officials met with education department heads and reportedly raised the likelihood honors courses at the junior high and high school levels would be eliminated in 2013-14 and be replaced with the state-mandated "Common Core."
"There is room between (advanced placement classes) and the Common Core," said Lisa Ross, a parent who has two children who graduated from the district after taking honors classes and two students currently enrolled.
"What I'm asking is really for the administration to step back and really do more research," Ross said.
Board members and Superintendent Rob Walker were quick to note no decision has been made on the fate of future honors programming, and Walker said there is no deadline for such a decision.
They also didn't refute rumors honors classes might be eliminated.
"I want to make it clear that the elimination of high school honors courses is not on today's agenda," Board President Cathy Olshefski said.
"That being said, the board of education believes that the pace of making decisions of this magnitude should be slow and steady.
"The members of the board believe that it is important that the district strategically weigh the pros and cons of these decisions, thoroughly research their impact on student achievement and college readiness (and) widely discuss the proposed changes with the community," Olshefski said.
According to Walker, members of the district's common core implementation team raised the prospect of the elimination of honors courses during a meeting with high school administrators last week.
Currently, the district is working to implement the Common Core, a state-mandated academic system, in time for the 2013-14 school year.
Following state legislation, Ohio has joined 45 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards in math and English and standards in other subjects are being rewritten now.
The new tests are designed to measure how well students grasp learning concepts and show whether they are ready for college or a career.
Additionally, teachers and building administrators will be evaluated based on their students' academic performances.
According to information provided by Walker's office, 3,931 Pickerington high school students (1,765 at Pickerington High School Central and 2,166 at Pickerington High School North) currently take honors classes, and 308 junior high students (165 at Lakeview and 143 at Ridgeview) do so, as well.
Several parents who spoke at Monday's board meeting said honors courses are needed to fill learning and curriculum gaps for students who wish to take AP classes.
They also said honors coursework is vital to many college applications, and noted eliminating honors classes next year would look bad for students in the class of 2014, who have taken the classes in previous years, but would not in their senior year.
"Colleges are asking for honors and AP classes," said Kathleen Ciccone, who said she has a daughter who has graduated from the district and two students currently enrolled.
"My kids are high achievers and they're competing for college with kids not only nationally, but internationally.
"... What's going to happen to the high-level achievers? Are they going to be able to compete with other schools around us?" Ciccone asked.
Parent Sonya Moesle added the district already has cut music, art and physical education courses for elementary-level classes and said the elimination of honors courses would further hurt children seeking ways to express themselves and those on accelerated learning paths.
"(My daughter's) stifled," Moesle said. "She's had a lot taken from her."
After the meeting, Walker said the district did a poor job of communicating the issue with both teachers and the parents.
He said the announcement to administrators last week should have been made last school year.
"Any time we make a change of this magnitude ... communication is critically important and there was a breakdown," Walker said after the board meeting.
Still, Walker emphasized no decisions have been made regarding the district's honors programming and there is no deadline for one.
He said district officials would collect information from other districts which are similar to Pickerington and which have adjusted or eliminated honors classes.
"Being a data-driven district, I want to hear results from districts that are like us," Walker said.