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Curriculum Splits Lebanon Board

Lebanon — In a series of narrowly divided votes last night, the School Board approved changes to Lebanon High School curriculum and tabled other more controversial proposals, including mixing students of different academic abilities.

The fragmentation of what high school administrators had pitched as a comprehensive overhaul led to warnings of lopsided class enrollment and scheduling conflicts next fall.

Because the approved changes were the ones that added to the course selection and the tabled ones were those that would reduce it, the changes also would strain the faculty, school officials said.

After the voting ended, the frustration that had been mounting on both sides of the issue became clear as administrators let out exasperated sighs and school board members became emotional when explaining their reasoning. Lebanon High School Principal Nan Parsons said that there aren’t enough teachers to cover the curriculum approved by the board last night, and that the changes would necessitate unusually low class sizes.

“I just need to let you know that we’re going to be running classes of five (students),” she said.

Administrators also raised the prospects of lawsuits from the state and the loss of the high school’s accreditation, prompting board member Hank Tenney to interject.

“What are these, scare tactics?” said Tenney. “This is ridiculous.”

Christina Haidari, who chairs the education committee in charge of weighing curriculum changes, said there had been insufficient time to examine the proposals because of unspecified scheduling conflicts that delayed the timeline of debating the proposed course changes.

“We were compressed into a two-week period, back to back meetings, trying to understand all of this,” she said. “You’re the education professionals. You gave us information, we tried to learn about it.

“If you had all this in the works in September, maybe you should have brought it out then so we could study it, learn about it, get the facts straight, talk to people, and people would know about it,” said Haidari. “Don’t come to us and say now you have a scheduling problem because our job is to use the information that you have given us to make a decision.”

At the start of voting, the board blocked out several changes that were deemed less controversial and voted them through 6-3.

The next two votes concerned blending students of varying academic abilities in the same classes and making ninth-grade social studies an elective course. Both were tabled for at least a year by votes of 5-4.

School Board Member Carissa Means, who made the motions to table the more controversial changes, said that the majority of public feedback indicated that the district should “slow down” with the proposed changes.

After the vote, School Board Member Lori Hibner asked administrators if the curriculum approved last night was “even possible.”

“I feel like we’ve created now this situation that we have all these different (classes) and this complexity to a schedule, and I don’t even know that the kids are going to be able to take the classes that they need to take,” said Hibner. She later added, “We’re talking about money, we’re talking about classroom space. ... I just wonder, have we even thought about that, instead of sticking to our guns?”

School Board Vice Chair Bob McCarthy, who appeared to be on the fence in earlier discussions about the curriculum changes, said that the version being voted on last night, which had been scaled back from administrators’ original proposal, would have benefited the students. “The people that are going to lose in this are our kids, and ... I’m really disappointed,” he said.

In earlier discussions, administrators and teachers in support of the mixing of students of varying ability argued that classes with more academic diversity allow teachers to raise expectations and challenge those who might be at lower skill levels. They also argued that more gifted students would also benefit from collaborating with students they might not normally interact with.

The board approved courses including graphic design, video game and interactive design, music in media, singing and songwriting, beginning ukelele and a strength and conditioning course for physical education. Advanced Placement geography will now be open to sophomores, and Latin honors will now be an AP course.

Board members also approved the addition of a third science credit for the class of 2018, one more than was previously required for graduation. The changes also include a course that would provide additional support to students struggling to meet the high school’s algebra requirement.

The high school’s course curriculum will include another “learning studio,” a classroom structure that focuses on community involvement and hands-on projects. The additional learning studio would focus on humanities and be offered to seniors. Currently, there are 10 high school students participating in a learning studio led by an English teacher and a social studies teacher, with additional support from a science teacher.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213