Northshore School District Challenge Program at risk, vote for Phillips and Smith | Letter

The Northshore School District’s Junior High Challenge Program is a self-select honors program in which students elect to work at a faster pace and are challenged with in-depth material. The district is planning to remove this highly regarded program despite more than 1,100 signatures of support on the Save Our Challenge petition.

The Northshore School District’s Junior High Challenge Program is a self-select honors program in which students elect to work at a faster pace and are challenged with in-depth material. The district is planning to remove this highly regarded program despite more than 1,100 signatures of support on the Save Our Challenge petition.

Petition organizers sponsored an information night titled “Why Elementary Parents Should Care about Saving the Challenge Program” at Kenmore Public Library on at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22. More than 50 concerned parents, students and community members attended.

Currently, NSD junior high students can self-select one or more Challenge classes by simply checking a box upon enrollment. The self-select nature of Challenge allows highly- motivated students from a wide variety of academic and socio-economic backgrounds access to rigorous classes that will prepare them for advanced AP and IB courses in high school. The self-select Challenge Program is about giving kids choices that set them up for success. Eliminating this program would do an immense disservice to the full range of students in our schools. Because any student can choose to take advantage of the Challenge program, it is a model of equity and fairness.

The District’s Middle School Grade Reconfiguration Task Force (MSGRT) and its Academic Subcommittee are currently deciding the fate of the Challenge program. Surprisingly, the district has given the Task Force only one model — a heterogeneous classroom model — to consider for how the middle school classrooms should be managed starting in 2017. Given this, one might ask if this is truly an effective task force, or if the district has already made up its mind?

In the heterogeneous classroom model, teachers would be required to differentiate instruction and homework for each individual child, from struggling learners to the highly capable in the same classroom – that could mean differentiation for 100 or more students each day.

Additionally, there is the cost to consider. Isn’t our district already underfunded? James R. Delisle, in his article Differentiation Doesn’t Work, states “In every case, differentiated instruction seemed to complicate teachers work, requiring them to procure and assemble multiple sets of materials.” Consider the costly professional development required to train teachers on the heterogeneous model, including the purchase of new curriculum, the cross-disciplinary collaboration time required, and the extra help needed in every classroom to teach many levels of learners. The heterogeneous model would cost a tremendous amount of time and money to implement, with (at best) dubious results for kids and teachers.

Although the Northshore community has much to say on this subject, the Academic Subcommittee has not asked students or parents if the current Challenge Program model needs to be changed. The Task Force has been meeting for more than two years, but during this time they have asked for no community input at all outside of the three parents who are serving on the subcommittee. The subcommittee has not even discussed the Save Our Challenge petition, which now has more than 1,100 signatures, nor have they read the multitude of public comments in support of the Challenge program. In addition, the Task Force declined to have their meetings recorded for public access, and the Subcommittee’s meeting notes do not appear on the district’s website. In effect, they have made it nearly impossible for the community to participate in this decision.

But there is still time to Save the Challenge program. The Academic Subcommittee owes a decision to the Middle School Task Force who will then forward their recommendation to the school board. Ultimately, the school board will make the final decision on this issue, so this is where we must focus our efforts to be heard.

Community members, especially students who have participated in the Challenge program, are encouraged to show support by contacting the Northshore School Board, attending meetings, and signing the Save Our Challenge petition at https://www.change.org/p/northshore-school-district-save-our-challenge

Additionally, one of the candidates for Northshore School Board, Berta Phillips has signed the Save our Challenge petition and Ken Smith has stated that the Challenge program works well for many students. Please consider voting for the two candidates who will help Save Challenge.

Together we can Save the Challenge Program.

Angie Hancock, Woodinivlle

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