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Choices and controversy

TIFFIN — Concerned parents and faculty spoke out May 20 at the regular meeting of the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school board. At issue was the proposed change in graduation requirements within the social studies curriculum. The proposal had its second reading at the meeting, and was an impassioned topic during both the public forum and board discussion before passing on a 4-3 vote.
While the total number of credits required to graduate– 56, in this case– does not change, the difference of opinion occurs in dropping social studies from eight required credits to six and increasing electives from 20 to 22.
Currently, high school students undergo a full year each of World Geography and American History, a semester of both Western Cultures and Government, and then choose two social studies electives
The transition would occur over two school years, with World Geography discontinued for the 2009-2010 year, and Social Studies Survey– a condensed set of courses which encompasses World Geography, Western Cultures, and Anthropology– implemented for the class of 2013. The change in required credits would allow students to take more elective courses, such as Iowa History, Sociology, Introduction to Psychology, Modern Political Controversies, Economics and Eastern Cultures, as well as Advanced Placement options in U.S. History and U.S. Government. In addition, Business Law and Child Development also qualify as social studies classes.
Lori Hammond told the board she wanted a better understanding of how the proposal came to be. While acknowledging the need to move the curriculum in-line with the pending State Core Curriculum, she noted the state plan is “a big picture, and not just one piece at a time.”
“I feel that we shouldn’t piecemeal this,” Hammond said. “It’s a big endeavor. I feel you need more input on making these types of decisions from the community, parents, teachers, everyone.”
Input from a teacher is precisely what social studies teacher Chris Ball had in mind as he addressed the board. Reading from a prepared statement, Ball said a reduction in staff was the catalyst for changing the curriculum. While he acknowledged some internal disagreement among the staff, Ball added the department intended to maintain the eight-credit requirement.
“Our social studies department initiated the change, something we thought was a positive change to the ninth grade social studies curriculum,” Ball said. “I believe that was used as an opportunity to reduce our credits from eight to six, and it was an unintended consequence of our initiation. I wonder, had we kept our mouths shut, would the credits have remained eight?”
Ball suggested the District Leadership Committee could take up the issue, accepting the ninth grade changes the department wanted, based on a consensus of the staff and the board. Ball also suggested tabling the rest and giving the Leadership Committee the opportunity to examine not only the social studies curriculum, but other curriculums as well. He pointed out how health requirements were increased, then later decreased.
“And now, we decide to suddenly decrease social studies requirements when the opportunity arises. What I would like to see happen is a consistent approach in how we address changes,” Ball said.
Social studies teacher Kim Meller pointed out the upcoming change to a trimester system in the next year or two.
“We’re going to have to change the social studies department then as well in our curriculum, and maybe even credits. I’d say we just table it for a year if we’re really going to go into trimesters,” Meller said.
Concerned parent Amy Pitlick expressed frustration during the first reading of the proposal in April “because it wasn’t discussed further, because I think this is a big thing.” Pitlick said she was concerned about the potential for losing social sciences classes (psychology, economics, etc.), offering an example of the importance she sees in the social studies programs:
“I don’t need trigonometry to change a diaper, but I really should’ve had child development,” Pitlick said. She added she would hate to see requirements taken away in favor of potentially easier electives, and echoed Meller’s suggestion to table the proposal in lieu of the pending switch to trimesters.
Administrative Facilitator Dave Krummel explained he had been asked by the social studies department to help in their efforts to modify the curriculum. Comparing CCA’s existing curriculum to other school districts, Krummel said, “It is very rare to have four years of social studies required.”
Under the proposal, only three years would be required. The social studies department wanted to have a single, year-long social studies class for all freshmen, and decided students did not need a full year of World Geography, Krummel said. Adding one semester was sufficient to meet educational requirements.
Board member Tim Hennes advocated sticking with the current credit requirements.
“We have always prided ourselves on being a little more rigorous than others,” Hennes said.
“I haven’t figured out why we’re changing it now,” agreed Board member Kathi Huebner, noting the options already available to the students for social studies electives. “If they don’t understand the world around them, we’re in trouble,” she said.
“It seems to me, we want a full understanding of how the curriculum is going to change,” Board Vice President Betsy Momany said. “It feels to me like we’re excavating a basement for a house… but we don’t know what the house is going to look like, and that’s very uncomfortable for me.”
Board member Matt Croco offered support for the proposal. Croco stated he felt with more rigorous standards coming down from the state via the core curriculum, students would have fewer choices.
“I’m not comfortable putting them (the students) all into the same boxes,” he said, saying the flexibility built into the proposed changes is better for students, who would naturally gravitate toward not only the social studies electives, but also toward their own interests.
Like Croco, President Dan Schaapveld felt the new requirements would provide students with the ability to find options more suited toward their interests and college studies, and said he was not concerned that the change would hurt the district’s academic rigor.
“Our standards are a lot higher than most high schools. We have set the bar high.” Schaapveld also stated he did not see lowering the requirements as “dumbing down” the curriculum as some critics had suggested.
Hennes countered Schaapveld’s arguments.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said.
A roll call vote was taken with Schaapveld, Kevin Kinney, Croco, and Kathy Zimmerman approving the proposal, while Momany, Huebner, and Hennes opposed it.
The third and final reading will be held at the next regular meeting.