Blue Valley Schools parents spoke out Wednesday against middle school scheduling changes that would give incoming sixth-graders more choices when it comes to electives next year, but decrease the total number of classes they are exposed to.
At a parent information session Wednesday, Superintendent Todd White explained that the district has added new classes — including robotics, coding, mass communications and agriculture — to the current sixth grade rotation of electives.
And starting in the 2017-2018 school year, students will take one elective per quarter, a shift from previous years when sixth-graders rotated through the majority of offerings in seven-week cycles. No longer will they be required to take certain subjects, such as music, White said.
While White and other administrators said the changes are being implemented in an effort to give parents and students more choice when it comes to what the kids study, dozens of parents argued passionately that middle-schoolers should be exposed to as many electives as possible, especially in performing arts.
Blue Valley West High School sophomore Lydia Berutti spoke in defense of a system that exposes kids to a diverse offering of courses. She recalled taking a computer class that she didn’t particularly enjoy.
“It ended up helping me,” the 15-year-old said. “Students might not enjoy (classes) for the seven weeks, but they’ll get the experience.”
The information session Wednesday was prompted by an outcry from parents who learned about an April 10 presentation to the board that showed early drafts of even more scheduling changes for the 2018-2019 school year.
In those plans, district officials had suggested a school day in which students might take music and world language every other day, attend elective “labs” where multiple teachers might integrate content, and spend time pursuing personalized projects.
And although White said that early draft will not be recommended to the board because it is too “limiting,” the plans did indicate the district’s intention to build a schedule that allows district officials to implement more rigorous curriculum and encourage students to use elective time to specialize and focus on individual interests.
The district has not updated its middle school curriculum in 15 years, White said.
What the district will decide for the 2018-2019 school year instead is still undetermined, White said, as district officials continue to explore and discuss options. Any further change to the school day would be addressed in public meetings in the fall and recommended to the school board by December, White said.
“We haven’t approved anything for the ’18-’19 school year or beyond,” White said.
Retired choir and band teacher Pam Smith Kelly said many teachers and parents throughout the district are worried that students will bypass classes, such as music, band, theater or pre-engineering, that they would otherwise have flourished in if they are not required to participate.
“These kids would have missed an opportunity in sixth grade,” Kelly said.
The former teacher of 32 years said others have concerns that the scheduling changes will prompt drops in enrollment for certain seventh and eighth grade classes that could impact high school programs.
“This kills me,” Kelly said. “It potentially destroys what we’ve done all these years.”