New course offerings reviewed by school board

Anyone who completed high school in the not-so-recent past is almost sure to envy the opportunities today’s teenagers have in the classroom – besides all that extra standardized testing, that is.
The use of technology is night and day different from what students had even six or seven years ago. New courses have likely caused more than a few parents to delve in to their students’ textbooks.
For example, in recent years, Monticello High School has added classes such as digital art, two new physics offerings, science fiction/fantasy literature and social studies exploring the decade of the 1960s and beyond.
Two more new offerings were approved for the 2013-14 school year at Monday board meeting.
The courses are virtual design and development and algebra II B.
Linda Borgerding, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said virtual design and development would be offered through the industrial technology department. It is an introductory course that will bring students from ‘drag and drop’ programming to writing code.
Borgerding said this class is a good next step for students who enjoyed the recently added eighth grade STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class.
“Math, physics, engineering are embedded in this course,” said Superintendent Jim Johnson. “These are critical skills, and [this course] gives it to them in a very hands-on way. Maybe it will light a fire under some kids who aren’t sure what they want to do.”
“I think we had a void in computer programming that we needed to fill,” Leitch-Sell added.
The second new class, Algebra II B, is a class created to solve the district’s problem of slipping math scores among algebra II students. Borgerding said when she talked with students and teachers regarding these math struggles, the same solution emerged that some students just need more time to master the concepts of this course.
“Many kids realize that to go on to college … algebra II is really something they need, and they need to understand it,” Borgerding said.
For those students who are struggling more in math, this additional course would allow them to take algebra II A in their tenth grade year, which is the same year they take geometry. In eleventh grade they would take algebra II B. This frees up the senior year for students to take a higher-level math course if they so choose. Currently there are four different math tracks students could be on, with some students taking algebra II as freshman and others as seniors.
“It may sound a little scary to have two math courses during a year,” Borgerding said, “but if you look at the standards algebra II and geometry work together.”
Algebra II A is currently in a pilot program this year, and she said there are three to four sections of students who are interested in taking algebra II B next year.
In other business, the board:
*Heard an update from Superintendent Johnson, who brought up school security in this first board meeting since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Johnson said he is meeting with the sheriff’s department this week, who have been meeting with schools around the district and will help them review safety procedures and policies. He said discussions with school principals have taken place about how well current safety procedures are followed and where improvements could be made. Johnson said all schools have at least five lockdown drills per year, and for the next drill Johnson said the sheriff’s department would be on hand to time the drill and offer suggestions for improvement. He will be bringing information from these conversations and drills back to the next board meeting to keep board members informed.
Johnson also noted some safety measures they are looking into, such as ensuring that classroom doors can all be locked from the inside, without needing to step into the hallway. He said other updates are likely to come up as they scrutinize procedures, but overall said he felt confident in the district’s ability to keep kids safe. He also said they must keep in mind what is reasonable action to keep kids safe, without overreaction.
“Any of these incidents we can learn from and get better, but overall I think people feel pretty good about where we sit,” Johnson said. “Can we get better? Absolutely, and I think we will do that.”
*The board held its annual reorganization, with Rob Smith taking over as board chair, which was formerly held by Scott Hill for the past seven years of his 11 on the board. Jeff Hegle was nominated as the vice chair and Jill Bartlett will now serve as clerk.
*Accepted a $4,000 donation from the Monticello Wrestling Club to the high school’s wrestling program.
*Johnson noted in his superintendent report that in the past 18 months, the school district has received $122,000 in donations to the school district.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Jan. 21 in the middle school boardroom.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.