The Blue Valley school district is looking to modernize its 15-year-old middle school curriculum, possibly by giving students more choices in what and how they learn.
But even before administrators propose a curriculum update to the school board, many Blue Valley parents are speaking out passionately against ideas that could lead to scheduling changes that mean less time for arts.
The district is discussing building a curriculum that uses projects, technology and collaborative teaching to meet students’ needs. But to make those changes, the district is talking about changing school schedules to give students more options and fewer requirements for electives, Superintendent Todd White said.
“There’s an overall theme that we are working from, and that is to provide more choice to both our students and our parents,” White said Monday.
A PowerPoint presentation shared with teachers earlier this year purports to do that by possibly reducing the total amount of time allotted for electives such as performing arts and physical education classes.
School administrators say the PowerPoint presentation, also shared with the school board April 10, detailed possible changes that are still being vetted within the school district and are part of a yearlong collaboration with district principals to update curriculum.
In response to the outcry from parents, the district is hosting three information sessions for parents months earlier than it intended to.
White said he would host three “community conversations” originally planned for the fall this week to share information about the process with parents and take questions.
Two “community conversations” are scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the CAPS Atrium, 7501 W. 149th Terrace in Overland Park.
Blue Valley parents like Bob Stewart, who made a Facebook group called Save BV Arts after reading the PowerPoint, worry that fewer children will be exposed to the arts if the board considers the changes.
And Stewart said he’s struggled to get information on exactly how much time or how many electives students would be able to take during the 2018-2019 school year.
The presentation suggests devoting half the school day to core subjects such as math, English, social studies and science. The remaining half would be split evenly between an elective class and time to pursue personalized projects with the help of teachers.
“We’ve been trying to educate ourselves in a week’s time on stuff they have been working on a year and haven’t told us,” Stewart said.
Next year, sixth-graders will have extra choices when it come to electives — robotics, coding, modern communications and “farm to table” agricultural classes have been added for next year — and will spend more weeks in the electives they choose.
The district will no longer require incoming sixth-graders to take choir, orchestra or band, though those options are still available to students.
The 2018-2019 school year presentation, which the district emphasizes has not been finalized, lists choir, orchestra, band, world languages and physical education as options for students. It also introduces the idea of elective design labs, where teachers and students might integrate several subjects, White said, such as music and history, for example.
Stewart said he worries that with more choices, some students would opt not to participate in arts-related classes at all and lose the benefit of being exposed to performing arts.
His daughter, now an eighth-grader, wasn’t interested in choir when she was required to take vocal music as a sixth-grader. Now, it’s one of her favorite classes, he said.
He said that other graduates have expressed similar sentiments to him since he started his Facebook page.
“They said they were exposed to those things in sixth grade and it changed their lives,” Stewart said. “It gave them a creative outlet. It’s about gaining confidence and public speaking and thinking outside the box creatively.”
White said any curriculum change the district opts to make is meant to inspire the same thing, but the new curriculum should leave room for a young generation to focus on areas that reflect their passions while still learning state standards.
“What you can see is that they want more choice and voice to what they do,” White said of the importance of giving choices to young learners. “They want a more collaborative environment. They don’t respond as well to being a passive learner.”
Meetings this week
Two community conversations about this subject are planned: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the CAPS Atrium, 7501 W. 149th Terrace in Overland Park.