BOE Revises Curriculum Changes, Concerns Remain

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Lucinda Harris-McConnachie, mother of an incoming VHS student, addresses the board.

Verona’s school curriculum supervisors presented a revised curriculum plan for Verona High School at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, February 8. The plan maintains an honors English class that had been slated for elimination but presents a strong case for pushing VHS students toward a more rigorous class schedule that includes more advanced placement classes. It also lays the ground for revisions to the school’s college prep track, its basic curriculum level, which will be unveiled later this year.

As was the case at the plan’s initial presentation on January 25, the meeting ran late and tempers occasionally ran over. The plan will be presented to the BOE as a resolution at its next meeting, March 1.

The curriculum supervisors, most of whom have been brought into the school system only within the past year, rallied a mountain of data to bolster their argument in favor of the changes. The revised presentation, which you can see here, runs to 37 pages. Some of its key points are that:

  • Verona students now take fewer AP classes than those in comparable school systems (27.7% to 33.8%)
  • Top colleges value a more demanding course schedule more than higher grades in less demanding classes
  • Students taking more AP classes are accepted to more top colleges
  • That with the average cost of “very competitive” and “highly competitive” colleges equal, more Verona students could strive for acceptances at the latter.

“If we can push more students into highly competitive schools, why wouldn’t we,” Superintendent Charles B. Sampson said.

Lucinda Harris-McConnachie, the mother of a current 8th grader who works in guidance in the Bergen County School system, took issue with some of the presentation’s assertions. She polled a different group of colleges than the curriculum supervisors had, ranging from Rutgers and East Stroudsburg to Penn State, Northeastern and Cornell, and said she was told that they still wanted to see mostly As and Bs on high school student transcripts. Some parents had expressed concern at the first meeting on the new curriculum that if more students were required to take AP classes instead of honors classes it would depress their grades.

Two mothers of students now in VHS remained wary of the changes. Lynn Tuorto commended the board for its attention to statistics but repeated her request, made at the first meeting for more information on which schools had eliminated their honors classes in favor of more AP classes. BOE President John Quattrocchi promised that that data would be forthcoming, but it does not appear in the presentation that the board has posted. And Cheryl Truchan said she still wanted to see more numbers from comparable schools, the so-called District Factor Group “I” schools. “Where’s the outcomes data?” she asked. “What are the other 10 things that they are doing better than we are doing?”

Quattrocchi stressed again that the curriculum plan is not an effort to improve Verona students’ performance on standardized tests, which has been lagging. Of the 46 so-called “I” districts with high schools in New Jersey, VHS finished 46 out of 46 for the percentage of students scoring advanced proficient on the 2010 High School Proficiency Assessment in language arts and 44 out of 46 among these districts for students taking the math HSPA. “The goal is to get more students into a stronger schedule,” he said.

Superintendent Sampson repeatedly emphasized that the changes planned for VHS are part of a comprehensive effort to make sure that Verona students are learning what they should be learning from kindergarten through 12th grade. “It’s about the strength of the program all the way through,” he said.

The meeting showed, perhaps unintentionally, that Verona still has work to do on getting the message about academic rigor out. Just after hearing the curriculum proposal, the board approved a list of movies to be shown to French class students at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School that included two Disney movies.

You can view the full curriculum presentation here.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

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