Parents to D219: Don't Scrap Honors Classes

The principals of Niles North and Niles West high school invited parents, students and community members to sound off on issues at a town hall meeting Thursday--and they got an earful.


Don't force students to take lunch. Don't get rid of honors-level classes. Do start school in early August and conclude final exams before winter break. 

Those were just some of the opinions offered by parents, students and teachers in Niles Township High School District 219  Thursday evening. 

For more than two hours, people stepped up to microphone to address Niles North High School Principal Ryan McTague, Niles West Principal Kaine Osburn and a panel of teachers and department heads. Each person was allotted three minutes, and more than three dozen people spoke. 

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They addressed a number of issues, including changing the school calendar to start earlier in August, moving to a focus on having at least half of students take at least one academically-challenging Advanced Placement (AP) class, requiring students to take a lunch period and more.

Keep the honors classes

The most commented-upon topic concerned the district's previously-announced aspiration to have most, or at least 50 percent of, students take at least one Advanced Placement class. District 219's superintendent, Nanciann Gatta, and the school board have previously stated they see the district's mission as preparing students for college, and they have said AP classes, which are academically rigorous, help students ready themselves for post-secondary school.


At Thursday's town hall meeting, many parents and students pleaded with the administrators not to scrap honors-level classes, which are more challenging than regular-level classes but not as difficult as AP classes.

"There’s a place for honors classes," said parent Lisa Lipin. "Some kids would be bored with regular classes, but AP classes would be too much for them."

A parent who identified herself as Debbie concurred, saying her children had "worked their butts off" in AP classes.  

One student said she studies as much as three hours a night for an AP class, and that, given how hard they are, it's unrealistic for the district to expect most students to take an AP class. She also said students should not take AP classes in subjects they're not passionate about.

"Our goal is not to have students take more AP to take more AP, but what we see is that there are students who could succeed in at least one AP course who aren’t doing so," replied Osburn.

All the data show that students who take an AP course, even it they don't get a high grade, are better prepared for college than students who took a non-AP course, he added. 

Change the calendar

A handful of students, and a few parents, had mixed opinions on whether to change the school calendar to start in early August.

Ryan McTague, principal of Niles North High School, said in introductory remarks that the idea came from students themselves. They disliked having to spend winter break studying for final exams, and they also felt that a week in early January was wasted because it was spent reviewing for finals, he said. By starting in early August, they could take finals before winter break and have a true respite at the holidays, he said.

"The new calendar would be congruent with community colleges at universities, students could begin college second semester of senior year, or take summer courses," he said.

Well, maybe don't change the calendar

The premise of students being on board with the idea got quickly challenged by a girl who identified herself as a Niles West student council member, and said her organization did not support the idea.

Another student in favor of the calendar change commented that some ambitious students view winter break as valuable study time they can use to excel on final exams.

Other students, however, said they did like the idea of getting finals over with before winter break. Student Allie Salter commented, "Yes we can use the two weeks of break to study but it doesn’t often happen that way."

Referring to the first week back at school in January, she said, "It’s like a really boring week, just review packet after review packet. I don’t like the change to my summer but I’m willing to sacrifice that to have finals before winter break." 

Other parents commented that, with their younger children in the area's elementary schools starting classes later in August, some families who can only take vacation time in August--for example, if their kids are in summer school or activities--would be robbed of family time if District 219 started in early August.

Require students to take lunch? 

While District 219 has noticed some kids don't have a lunch period and is considering requiring them to take one, parent Linda Rozich felt they should not.

Speaking of her daughter, she said, "If she had a lunch period she’d have to miss something. I think the school sends mixed messages by saying 'get out there and do things,' and then 'don’t be overburdened by taking these other classes.'

"It’s not for every student but if that student wants to do it, they should be allowed to."

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Pam DeFiglio November 12, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Thanks, RJG, for clarifying that they do not teach a full load of classes, and making the observation about those who were not present.
john November 12, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Honors classes are absolutely not needed. What is needed is expansion of the advanced placement (AP) classes. These classes, unlike honor's classes, follow strict criteria according to National Collage testing guidelines. Testing at the end of each semester gives the student collage credit which means he does not have to take these courses again (saving parents $money$). I taught at the High School level and some of the useless classes were honors corpses. These courses are great for bragging rights but have very little use in the real world.
grandpa November 12, 2012 at 03:24 PM
John; Are "collage credits" an art project?
Dedicated Parent November 12, 2012 at 05:48 PM
One item not mentioned in article is that the Director of English on the panel stated that the range for students in some english classes varies from 3rd grade to college level. With that said, it would seem that D219 should focus on addressing this issue. One way to do so is to maintain all current tracks regular-honors-AP at all grade levels so that all students are challenged to move up to the next level based on their ability. To think that a high school student who is reading at a 3rd grade level could benefit from taking an AP class does not make sense to this parent. What does make sense is continuing to offer the resources to help this student so that maybe they would be able to move up from regular to honors at some point in high school. If the honors track is eliminated this will not be a possibility for students who are not at grade level. See link below to read the entire Annual Review with proposed changes that will be voted on at the December 17 D219 Board of Education meeting. Please plan to attend. http://www.niles219.org/district/district-information/annual-review-programs/recommendations-to-boe-2013-2014
Xandra November 13, 2012 at 09:09 AM
I went to Niles North in the 90s and took almost all honors classes. I can't imagine getting rid of that level of class considering some AP classes were just too time consuming. I found a good balance in choosing the right APs while still challenging myself with the honors. I don't know how it is now, but back then guidance counselors and teachers really helped plan proper course loads. School is about learning. Not everything has use to the real world, but it's still knowledge. I would even say what I learned in honors classes was more helpful than a lot I learned in AP.


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