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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018 1:00 am

Keep honors classes, FWCS urged

Standing room only; passionate speeches heard

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Students and parents packed the Fort Wayne Community Schools boardroom Monday, with more than two dozen making impassioned pleas to maintain high school honors courses.

Some threatened to leave the district over the matter.

“Do not throw these classes away,” parent Tara Ahrens said in a particularly impassioned speech.

“We will leave.”

The 30,000-student district is proposing ending honors courses as they are today as it overhauls curriculum in response to changing education laws, including the state's graduation pathways. Under the new setup, students could receive honors instruction in classes with students of varying abilities. 

The topic, which was not for action, attracted an unusually large crowd. Most seats were taken in the 122-capacity room before the meeting began, forcing several in the audience to stand.

Superintendent Wendy Robinson repeatedly encouraged audience members to attend future meetings as the district undertakes the years-long project, which addresses more than honors classes.

“We have a huge community conversation to have,” she said, noting Monday was just the beginning.

She and the board listened for about an hour as parents, alumni and students advocated for the honors courses, which many described as a bridge to Advanced Placement courses.

Many expressed concerns about offering honors coursework through a setup relying on teachers to divide their attention among students of varying abilities rather than offering separate classes for students wanting the honors education.

Parent Tina Janiszewski is afraid the change will push some students to take AP classes to get that separate, higher-level instruction. In addition, she worries students' self-esteem will suffer by being in the same class with higher-achieving students.

Ahrens worries gifted students won't get the quality education they deserve in integrated classes – a term many used.

“They are never pushed to their abilities,” she said.

Anna Meinzen, a Snider High School senior, said she experienced such a situation when her small AP class was merged with a non-AP class. It was difficult for the teacher to divide her attention between the groups, she said.

Extra coursework won't replace an honors curriculum taught by a teacher who understands the needs of honor students, high school student Harrison Snyder said.

FWCS asserts students who might not otherwise be motivated or be pushed to take honors classes will rise to the occasion when surrounded by those who are, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said after the meeting. It doesn't mean the district is taking away opportunities from the other students, she said.

A $50 million federal grant will support professional development needed for the change, she said.

Parents asked whether anything can be done to influence lawmakers about the state's education policies.

FWCS officials encouraged parents to contact legislators, the State Board of Education and – school board President Julie Hollingsworth noted – the governor.

“The state board is doing his bidding,” she said.

Robinson encouraged parents to keep their communication to lawmakers simple.

“If you have a message,” she said, “say, 'stop this.'”

In other business, the board approved the termination of Wayne High School teacher Roy Repine effective today. Stockman confirmed he was the educator recently suspended while officials investigated whether he had an inappropriate relationship with a student.