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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lack of Electives, Lack of Everything

There was a quick blip in the Roanoke Times yesterday, about Mike Stovall, the new school board chairman "Roanoke County School Board Chief Sees Tough Times Ahead"...

"The coming year is going to be one of the most challenging this board has ever seen, and I look forward to meeting that challenge," Stovall said. "Together this board will work to make the best decisions we can to ensure our students continue to receive a top-quality education."

Now that my friends, has got to be the understatement of the year. I'm so happy my son is graduating this June and fretting my daughter will still have two years left. I've seen some changes the last couple of years and they've not been good for the students.

This is the second year that the RC schools do not have enough money to even print up the registration guide. Students and parents must go on-line to find out what courses are being offered so that they are prepared for their meeting with their guidance counselors. In the past, parents filled out a form with three options as to the best times they could join their child for the one-on-one with the counselor. This year that is not an option. According to a letter sent home,

"Due to the economic times and staffing concerns, the registration appointment scheduling process is changing. We will not be able to accommodate day and time requests as we have in years past...The appointment can not be rescheduled except in cases where school is closed due to inclement weather."

Naturally my daughter's date and time coincides perfectly with a dental appointment I have had scheduled from six months ago with the only hygienist I like. I cannot get another appointment with her until September! Since I will not be able to attend my daughter's registration meeting we both sat down and looked at the options that are available to her.

First off, according to the same letter that was sent home..."The unprecedented budget shortfall, which we are currently experiencing, will have an effect on the electives that will be offered in the 2010-2011 school year...We cannot ensure that a student's first choice of elective will be available...Should a student have the misfortune where none of their elective choices are available, the school has the right to contact the parent and assign the student an available elective."

That's what they did this year, only they didn't contact the parents, just assigned an elective that neither of my kids even picked as one of their classes. Looking on-line at the electives there aren't even many to pick from to begin with. They got rid of Driver's Education, some Marketing, as well as some computer classes, and probably others too that we're not even aware of. They have made Personal Finance, a semester class, mandatory. Last year I was extolling how wise that was and I made my son take it, even though he wasn't required to. It sounded good on paper, but now I have changed my tune. According to him, that class is a joke. My son said it was the most inane, ridiculous waste of time class he has had in four years. This is not a rant against the teacher, but the curriculum, a good part of which consisted of watching movies such as "The Money Pit," "Cheaper by the Dozen", "The Client" and others, one of which was from The History Channel about the Great Depression which at least was informative. One of the assignments was drawing a snowman in Word which my son felt insulted his intelligence. He did remark that many of the other students in the class, freshman, actually had a harder time with that assignment, which he blames on the freshman not having received laptops this year, one of the major cutbacks from Roanoke County. He also commented that he sees a big difference in that grade level's understanding of basic computer use and thinks it's going to have a detrimental effect on their level of learning throught their high school years. Interesting perspective from another student.

There are no other semester only electives so if a student takes Personal Finance I'm assuming the other elective will have to be a Study Hall. That's what happened in my son's case even though he had requested sociology or psychology as they were offered this year as semester classes. They're not next year. This mandatory class which has replaced Keyboarding as the mandatory class, a class my daughter already took in 8th grade to fulfill that now unnecessary requirement, puts a wrench in her schedule. Since she goes to Burton for Mass Comm she's already under a tight ship and only has room for one elective. She wants to takes Spanish IV but there's no guarantee she'll even get it. Personal Finance is at the bottom of her list, and although she'll have one more year to fit it in somehow, with her having an internship as part of her curriculum in her senior year I don't see how that's going to happen. She's hoping the School Board will realize the class is useless and no longer require it by the time she gets to her senior year. Like my son said, "If they're gonna cut classes, start with that one and bring back the useful ones, ones we may actually learn something in."

Ending this post on a bright note...Hidden Valley High School, along with two other Roanoke County Schools, Clearbrook Elementary and Cave Spring Elementary earned the 2010 Governor's Award for Educational Excellence. According to SWOCO, "The award is the highest honor under the Virginia Index of Performance (VIP) incentive program created by the Board of Education in 2007 to advance Governor Kaine’s “competence to excellence” agenda promoting advanced learning and achievement. This is the third straight year Hidden Valley High School has received the Governor’s Award and the second straight year for Cave Spring Elementary School. Clearbrook Elementary School received the Governor’s Award in 2008."

Congratulations to the staff, students and parents of those schools, and good luck in the future...looks like you're going to need it.

One other thing...you can help your local schools by donating not just money, which is tax deductible but also supplies. When my daughter took art last year by the second semester there was hardly anything left for the students to even use. Every little bit helps and you'd be surprised at what "junk" you might have hanging around the house that would be "treasures" to the art and other departments.

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