Small step for GHS honors

GILROY
– The Gilroy Unified School District took a cautious step
forward Thursday night by endorsing its controversial freshman
honors courses for next school year and expanding their delivery to
next year’s sophomores, too.
GILROY – The Gilroy Unified School District took a cautious step forward Thursday night by endorsing its controversial freshman honors courses for next school year and expanding their delivery to next year’s sophomores, too.

The program will need further tracking, the district says, before the “pilot” status is removed and before subjects beyond English and Social Studies are brought into the fray.

The take-it-slow approach left the Gilroy parents who are pushing for immediate implementation of honors courses – at all levels and across all subjects – worried that their children won’t get the accelerated instruction necessary for admission to the nation’s better colleges.

“When I hear they need more time to study things, I get worried,” said Renee Willis, an Alliance for Academic Excellence member whose daughter is in the ninth grade. “My daughter is in competition to get into college. I want to see something now. At a minimum, continue honors classes to next year and expand them.”

Recently elected school board trustees David McRae and Tom Bundros, as well as re-elected incumbents TJ Owens and Jim Rogers, were challenged by Alliance parents to see that the honors courses they publicly supported during their campaigns get fast tracked.

“A pilot program in only English and Social Studies fell far short of the Alliance’s request. The public has stated loud and clear in the recent election that it approves of the board’s new direction,” said Martin Bress, an Alliance parent. “Now is the time for the board to take a clear stand.”

Other Alliance parents implored the district to begin an outreach program to middle school families who recently left the district to pursue honors options at private schools.

“This board needs to make clear they’re not just giving the community lip service. Our slogan should be ‘I came back to the Gilroy Unified School District,’ ” said Sue Gramm. “The work is far from over.”

The recommendation to continue the honors program came from a special task force made up of teachers, administrators and two opposing parent groups (the Alliance and the Community Alliance for Fair and Equitable Education) charged with evaluating whether the honors program for GHS underclassmen is worthy of becoming a permanent fixture of the school’s curriculum. The task force, which met once in October and November, has decided to meet quarterly through June 2005 to research the honors program’s effectiveness.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz said he now will push ahead with implementing a multi-grade-level honors program since there was no disagreement from the board.

Members of CAFEE did not speak at the meeting.

Currently, 86 freshmen are enrolled in Honors English I and Honors Global Studies which GHS piloted beginning this school year. Honors courses for freshmen and sophomores were dropped from Gilroy High’s curriculum more than 10 years ago in favor of grouping students of all achievement levels.

Over the summer, the school opened honors enrollment to any student wanting a challenge. The move was done to avoid criticism from parents and staff who argued that Gilroy High was discriminating against and neglecting disadvantaged students.

Roughly half of current honors students were part of the district’s accelerated learning program, known as Gifted and Talented Education (GATE), during their elementary and middle school years.

Honors courses for upperclassmen consist of Advanced Placement classes across more than a dozen subject area. AP courses are considered “college level” and include a year-end standardized test that, if passed, gives students college credit.

As far as expanding the scope of the honors program, GHS Principal Bob Bravo told the board that discussions with math and science faculty at GHS are under way.

“My prediction is that I’ll be returning to you in January or February,” Bravo said. “We need to systematically talk to the math and science department heads and it’s just that that takes time.”

The recommendation was part of a report to the school board Thursday night by Bravo and Jacki Horejs, the school district’s assistant superintendent of educational services.

In the report, Bravo compared the academic performance of English and Social Studies students with their honors-level counterparts. Students in both the regular Global Studies and English courses are earning far more failing grades than students in honors courses. Some parents and staff have said continued poor performance by underachievers is one of the negative impacts of separating students according to their ability.

Bravo did not have data available from last year that could indicate whether the existence of honors courses triggered the large number of failing grades.

“It’s premature to draw any conclusions like that from the data we have now,” Bravo said in an interview after his report.

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