Thoughts on Jefferson County's School Board race

May 05, 2006|by LYNN WIDMYER

I have been voting in Jefferson County School Board elections for more than two decades and the hot topic is always the same - money.

This year is no exception. Incumbent School Board candidates are busy defending why they have not attracted more state funds to Jefferson County. Challengers promise their winning personalities will serve as a magnet for education dollars.

I am disappointed that the topic I am most interested in has received little attention - academics, particularly at the high school level.

I can hear the School Board candidates shout their response: How can we strengthen academic programs without money to build classrooms or pay teachers?


I know, I know. That is why I vote in favor of school bonds and support locality pay for our teachers.

What I do not know is how we are going to raise our academic standards at Jefferson High School, with or without huge injections of state aid.

We need a plan to get more students enrolled in rigorous, college-oriented courses. Jefferson High School is not succeeding in this area as evidenced by the low number of students taking Advanced Placement or AP courses.

These courses focus on college-level material and demand a high level of work and commitment from the student. If students do well on a national standardized AP test at the end of the course, they can earn college credit.

My daughter, a 2005 graduate of Jefferson High School, was able to skip some math and science requirements her freshman year at North Carolina State University because of her AP scores.

Enrollment in AP courses is surging across the nation. But not at Jefferson High School.

Over the past seven years, there has been virtually no change in the number of AP tests taken by students.

Even more disappointing is how Jefferson High School ranks in terms of the AP Challenge Index. This index rating divides the number of AP exams taken at a high school by the number of graduating seniors.

A score of 1 equals one exam per senior. The highest index score in the Washington metropolitan area in 2004 was 4.098 in Falls Church, Va.; the lowest was 0.776 in the District of Columbia. The index score for Jefferson High School in 2005? It was 0.277.

Regardless of how suspicious you are of statistics, Jefferson High School's poor showing makes one fact very clear. A plan is needed to get more students interested and enrolled in academically challenging courses.

Back in 1995, the faculty senate at Jefferson High School tried to promote higher academic achievement when it voted overwhelmingly to implement block scheduling. Using this approach, students would have four 90-minute classes per day per semester. The Faculty Senate briefing paper documented how block scheduling in other schools resulted in improved test scores, more students on the honor roll, lower dropout rates and lower absentee rates.

The School Board (under the leadership of then School Board President Peter Dougherty) never voted on the proposal and it was never implemented.

The theme of this year's School Board election seems to be "show me the money." Whether we get more state funding or whether we don't, I want whoever is elected to the School Board to show me the academics.

Lyn Widmyer lives in Jefferson County, W.Va., and writes for The Herald-Mail.

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