Clarke County students have a lot of options when it comes to selecting the type of educational track that they intend to pursue during their high school education. However, school officials, community organizations, and citizens don’t see eye-to-eye on curriculum emphasis or approaches and are gearing up to debate the mix of college preparation offerings as well as vocational training support.
“We have many advanced educational programs combined with a declining school population and test performance that is not what it should be,” said school board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) at last week’s school board meeting. “We have to look at whether we can afford so many programs.”
After recent testing results from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program revealed poor performance and an overall low diploma achievement rate, the School Board decided to take a closer look at the school division’s advanced course offerings at a special meeting.
While everyone agreed that the problems revealed in the IB program need closer review, not all of the School Board members have the same goals in mind for the meeting’s outcome.
Janet Alger (Russell) initially recommended the review meeting, in what looks to be shaping up as an IB versus Advanced Placement (AP) fight, as an opportunity for School Board members to dialogue with school staff to identify and address the issues that are contributing to poor test scores and low IB diploma completion rates. School Board member Jennifer Welliver (Berryville) has also endorsed the approach.
In recent School Board meetings, both Welliver and Alger have expressed the need for a “workshop” session where School Board members, school administration and school can offer solutions for improving CCPS’s IB performance.
However, Bouffault said last Monday night that she sees the meeting differently.
“We all already have ideas about what the issues are so I don’t think that we need to take up valuable staff time asking them to present us with more research,” Bouffault said. “I think that a two hour meeting is all that we need”.
But while Alger and Welliver see the IB program as an important component of preparing students for college careers after high school, other members of the community are demanding that more attention be given to curriculum deficiencies for students that may not follow a traditional college track.
Chris Bates, a White Post horse breeder, accused the School Board of not showing enough interest in the division’s vocational and agricultural programs. At Monday night’s School Board meeting, Bates scolded the School Board during a public comment period.
“In this document you say that the second of the top three issues voiced by constituents is the need for vocational courses in the high school,” Bates said while waving a 2008 document titled “Position Paper – The New Direction,” which he attributed to the School Board. “Yet there has been a decline in the number of vocational courses. Why do we have only 29 students signed up for Horticulture when we are getting ready to spend $300K on a greenhouse?”
Bates went on to accuse the School Board of losing sight of the needs of agricultural students and the local job market.
“I think that you’ve been spending so much time trying to rebuild public trust in the School Board that you’ve taken your eye of the vocational issues,” Bates continued. “There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for vocational offerings and I hope that you will focus on creating a vocational, technical, and agricultural program that will look like the county wants it to. You need to be expanding the vocational offering by listening to the community.”
After the meeting Bates, who raises Morgan horses on 268 acres near White Post, emphasized that Clarke County is still an agricultural community where not every student will go on to college. He said that it is important to expand the high school’s vocational course offerings in order to meet the needs of non-college bound students. Bates cited six vocational courses that he said have have recently disappeared from the CCHS course listing including equine management and small engine repair.
“The quality of the agricultural classes has dropped,” Bates said. “The number of students enrolled in the vocational courses has also dropped because no one is in charge of the program.”
Bates suggested that the success of CCPS’s DECA program was largely due to the leadership of staff members who are enthusiastic about the subject matter, but said that vocational students lacked similar support.
“If Robin Eddy were in charge of the vocational program we’d have very different results,” Bates said.
However, if there has been a the lack of focus on CCPS’s vocational offerings as Bates has charged, promised support from the agricultural community that, so far, has not materialized, may also be called into question.
In May, 2010 Clarke County Farm Bureau leaders Clay Brumback and Corey Childs pledged to help the school division re-focus a portion of the school curriculum on expanded agricultural education for Clarke County students as well as neighboring districts that have reduced or eliminated agriculture training programs.
Then School Board chairman Robina Bouffault enthusiastically welcomed the farming community’s support and the School Board directed the Farm Bureau to develop an action plan for moving the concept closer to reality. The Farm Bureau, at the time, committed to providing vocational equipment and funding streams through a multiphase development approach.
Over a year later, with the promised vocational action plan and funding nowhere to be found and with no progress on the farmers-schools vocational education collaboration, proponents of college bound programs like IB and AP will likely question the need for expanded vocational study tracks given the agriculture community’s inability to deliver the promised vocational-agriculture guidance.
Asked if the Farm Bureau had dropped the ball on the promised assistance Bates replied; “We’re meeting about that topic tonight.”
The Clarke County School Board will meet on August 29th at 7:00pm in the Johnson Williams Middle School library to discuss the school division’s IB, AP, and Bridge programs.