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Change in Junior High scheduling meets with heated opposition

Published June 06. 2012 05:01PM

A new configuration to the Palmerton Area Junior High School schedule continues to be met with vehement opposition.

The secondary reorganization process was debated as part of a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday, at which time audience members expressed their displeasure with the modification.

Administration has decided to eliminate homogenous grouping - the grouping of students of similar abilities - and replace it with fully heterogeneous grouping, or random grouping. However, there will continue to be homogeneous grouping only for students taking higher-level math.

Resident Marion Hoffner, a retired teacher in the district, asked why administration would recommend the change when the district has yet to receive the results from this year's Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores.

"If this change is so inevitable, why can't it wait until next year? Hoffner asked. "Perhaps give them a year to figure this out."

Resident Audrey Larvey, a retired teacher in the district, said she concurred with Hoffner's sentiment, and asked what logic was used to justify administration's decision.

"If we haven't gotten the scores yet, why are we jumping on this bandwagon? Larvey asked. "I think there are too many things that don't make sense; they don't feel like they're logical, and they [the teachers] need to know the logic."

Resident Tiffani Christman said she has three students in the district who learn at three different levels, and added that she supported the reservations expressed by both Hoffner and Larvey.

Colby Moyer, a sixth-grade student at Towamensing Elementary, urged the district to keep the same kind of scheduling that has been utilized at the junior high school rather than the new approach.

Resident Darren Wenner told the board he was not happy with the decision, and said he may pursue schooling for his child outside of the district.

Board President Barry Scherer attempted to explain the rationale behind administration's decision.

"This is part of the law," Scherer said. "We can't discriminate against the students."

Resident Terri Roselli asked how parents would be assured that their children will be taught all they need to be taught.

Scherer said he knows of at last two individuals he knows who he said are thrilled with the idea.

Director Sherry Haas noted that the decision was not one the board agreed to.

"We did not vote on any of this," Haas said. "We're not the ones making the decision."

Director Josann Harry echoed that statement.

"We are not taking a vote," Harry said. "It's an administrative decision."

Resident Billie Jo Moyer said she believes the change was a "one person decision."

Superintendent Carol Boyce told Moyer she took exception to that claim.

"It was not a single person decision; it was an administrative group decision," Boyce said. "It was not my decision alone."

Scherer told the audience that not every decision that is made will be met with 100-percent support.

"Our decisions are made with the best information we have, and hopefully a lot of common sense," Scherer said.

Brad Landis, a teacher at the junior high, said he disagreed with the manner in which the decision was reached.

"You ask the one's who are in the trenches, and that did not happen," Landis said.

The discussion followed a presentation given by school psychologist Meghan Garrett as part of a workshop session held before the special meeting.

"This is not a clear-cut topic," Garrett said. "We focused on the effects of academic achievement."

Boyce noted that seventh grade students will receive a double period of language arts, while eighth grade students will get a double period of math.

"There will be more minutes of instruction than there are currently," Boyce said.

Mary Brumbach, principal of S.S. Palmer Elementary and the Parkside Education Center, said such a configuration has been proven to work.

"This is not something that's new," Brumbach said. "It's been proven in many districts."

Larvey said that while she was impressed with the presentation given by Garrett, "none of those studies were done in the 21st century."

After the meeting, Boyce discussed the matter with the TIMES NEWS in greater detail.

"We are ability grouping in math, and math only, at present, which will enable students to be grouped randomly in their other subject areas," she said. "This decision has been data driven, because we have analyzed the PSSA scores based upon a comparison of the results of not only the five Carbon County schools, but also the schools in the Lehigh Valley, Northumberland and Pike counties."

Boyce added "Our junior high, by and large as a group, come out of the elementary schools ranked very high relative to all of those other schools, they leave the junior high nearly at the bottom of that comparison, and climb back up at the senior high level. We believe our students are better than that, and we are looking for ways for them to be able to exhibit their strengths."

"I truly believe that our teachers are capable of enhancing their instruction with youngsters; they work very hard at their craft, and I am sure they care deeply about each and every student," she said. "The administrative team at large has confidence that this is the best instructional practice for the children."

Boyce confirmed last month that the schedule change will go into effect as of the 2012-13 school year.

At that time, she said the configuration would decrease class size, and added that an increase from five to six sections would allow for smaller class size, and would give the opportunity for more individual time for teacher per student.

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