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Taconic Hills offering electives, anyway

Dec 27, 2010 7:28 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Taconic Hills Central Schools"][/caption]A top story in both the Register Star and Daily Mail today charts the ways in which Columbia County's Taconic Hills High School is offering its students a number of new electives for the 2011-2012 school year in spite of the economy that's seeing a growing number of school districts cutting back on all they offer. The fields in which new electives will be offered are science, technology, agricultural science, social studies and English. School budgets have been slammed by rising insurance and benefits packages, as well as mandated spending, while teachers have been a brunt of anti-tax rhetoric. A key item up for discussion this year is the possible implementation of a statewide two cercent property tax cap, which would put most local education funding below mandated levels.

The rest of the story runs like this:

“We’re trying to keep our students engaged, keep them from dropping out and enrich their career opportunities,” Principal Kathy Cioppa told the Board of Education Wednesday. “We want to attack the high school graduation rate and allow students to succeed in their chosen fields.”

“Science Research in the High School” would allow highly motivated students to do original science research with the option to earn college credit and be matched with a professional mentor, Director of Instruction & Staff Development Sandra Gardner said. “Advanced Placement Chemistry” would fill in the gap created with the loss of a teacher last year.

In the field of Technology, two new courses will be offered, “Communications Systems” and “Energy and Power Technology.”

Gardner said one out of three Taconic Hills students will have an agriculture-related job. Given the strong community interest in an ag program, courses will be offered in “Agricultural Issues,” “Animal Science,” “Environmental Science,” and “Plant Science,” which would include greenhouse management.

In the field of Social Studies, “The Role of the Family in Society” would look at how the family has changed throughout history; and in the field of English, students will now be able to opt for “Introduction to Drama and Theater I” and “Introduction to Drama and Theater II.”

Board President Ron Morales asked, “How do we find out if the students want these?”

Gardner suggested that electives answer that question by their nature.

“We put it on the table for students, they make their choice,” she said. “We find out what is most popular.”

“You’ll have the course catalogs in January,” Gardner said. “By the break, all students will be scheduled. Finalization will be the last week of January and first two weeks of February.”

It’s important for students to start thinking about NCAA accreditation early, she said, because scholarships carry course requirements.

Morales asked whether the courses would require additional staff, and Gardner said, “We’re looking for guidance from the superintendent and you. We’ll run the numbers.”

Board Vice-President George Lagonia asked whether the courses would be grantable.

“Yes, but to rely on grants is tricky,” Gardner said. “It’s hard to find that niche.”

Grants would likely pay for supplies and materials, she said, but probably not for the teaching.

Some of the positions could be filled from within, she said. Agricultural courses do not fall into that category, however, Gardner said, since she’s the only one in the district certified in that area. But in drama, there’s a teacher “chomping at the bit” to teach courses, she said.

A drama course, she said, couldn’t replace a regular English course, but could replace another elective.

Asked by district resident Robert Piper how the courses were chosen without a survey of student interest, Gardner said the guidance counselors and committees of teachers picked them. For several years, she said, they have known there’s been a high interest in drama.

GED courses were not included, Gardner said, since they are already offered through BOCES.