by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Imagine taking a class about hunting, fishing, gathering and gardening locally, the U.S. National Parks, or drumming in middle school. Winona Middle School (WMS) students may have the opportunity next year. Course proposals from WMS and Winona Senior High School (WSHS) recently arrived at the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board table, bringing with them a potential schedule change at WMS and reconfiguration of English classes at WSHS.
Alongside those new course offerings, WAPS has proposed cutting practical and essential English classes, which serve students who are struggling or need extra support, and combing those classes with normal, grade-level English classes. High school staff are proposing that 10th, 11th and 12th grade practical or essential English courses become part of grade-level English courses. Students would then have the choice of taking grade-level or honors English in 10th grade and the option of enrolling in grade-level, honors or AP (advanced placement) English in 11th and 12th grade. Essential ninth grade English will remain in place for now, WSHS Principal Mark Anderson said in an interview. “We left that there with the hope that in the next year or two, we’d be removing that also,” Anderson stated.
All course proposals are subject to School Board approval. In the past, some citizens and School Board members have criticized proposals to add elective classes while scaling back core subjects at the high school.
School Board member Jim Schul said at the board’s January 7 meeting that he would like the descriptions of the proposed courses to include information about inclusive, multicultural content, as he found during his time as a teacher that having details written down in course descriptions helped teachers get those details into their classes. He saw places in the course proposals where staff could put information about inclusive material, he stated. “I’m absolutely committed to the idea that we have to incorporate multiculturalism both explicitly and pervasively in our curriculum,” Schul stated.
The district’s Curriculum Advisory Committee (CAC) and other district teams working to consider course content in an inclusive manner, WAPS Director of Learning and Teaching Karla Winter said. “That is the process we’re looking through and going through … We’ll continue to dive into the courses and make sure we’re being responsive of our student populations,” Winter stated.
The district’s goal for closing the racial and economic achievement gap between students of color and their white peers for the state-mandated World’s Best Workforce plan includes a strategy of increasing the number of students of color taking honors or advanced courses at the high school. When asked about the thinking behind setting a goal to increase the representation of students of color in advanced classes versus a goal to increase students’ of colors grades in certain classes, overall GPA or proficiency on an assessment teachers give, Anderson said, “I think all those things go into it together. They’re all part of things we’re working on. They’re not separate from each other.”
The changes to English classes will provide opportunities for students who have not taken honors or advanced courses before to do so, Anderson said. “It allows students to see they’re capable and we want them to challenge themselves,” Anderson stated. “It offers them that opportunity, what that support to make sure they do well no matter what background they come from.”
One support for students would be general education and special education teachers collaborating on parts of courses like assessments and teaching together, or co-teaching, Anderson said. This co-teaching began before the pandemic, he stated, and there is at least one special education teacher per subject that co-teaches with a general education teacher.
When asked how students who would have taken practical or essential English would be impacted by the elimination of those classes, Anderson said that the reconfiguration of English courses would provide better educational opportunities. “There’s some more rigor,” Anderson stated. “There’s a higher level of expectations, which we should be expecting from all our kids. We just have to make sure we have supports in place to make sure students are successful in completing that curriculum.”
A challenge of implementing the changes to English classes would be helping students who would have taken practical or essential English courses feel confident about taking the new classes, Anderson stated.“We want them to understand that they are very much capable of taking those [new] courses and doing well in them, and we’ll work hard with them to make sure that happens,” Anderson said.
When asked about the cost impacts of proposed courses, Anderson said staff have put in requests for the funds to update courses. Staffing impacts tied to course changes won’t be known until students sign up for classes for next year and high school leadership knows what staffing is necessary, Anderson stated.
With shifting state standards meaning more classes need to fit into the school day, WMS Principal Mark Winter said at the School Board’s January 7 meeting, middle school leaders surveyed staff about keeping a six-period day or switching to a seven-period day. The majority of staff — 85 percent — said they would prefer moving to a seven-period day, he stated.
Staff kept in mind as they considered a seven-period day that they may need to reteach content post-pandemic, Winter said. “It really does open up the schedule and free up some time where we can use some of that elective time for students who need to recover some of that knowledge,” Winter said of a seven-period day.
Course changes would not impact staffing, Winter stated; rather, the classes staff teach may simply shift.
If students do not sign up for a proposed course, he said at the CAC’s December 21 meeting, the school will not offer it, and there will be no costs associated with teachers writing the curriculum for it.
Middle school staff are proposing electives in the areas of science, English and social studies that students would take outside of their required courses in these subjects. Proposed science electives include classes on human disease, local nature and environmental issues. Book club and digital literacy are among the proposed English electives. For social studies, one proposed elective is about the U.S. National Parks.
Staff are proposing music electives for the middle school, as well. As with the proposed science, English and social studies electives, students would take the proposed music electives in addition to their required classes in this area. Proposed music electives include drumming for students who are not already studying percussion, chamber band and chamber choir. Staff are also proposing updates to other music courses. For sixth grade music, staff are proposing a course centered on music from around the world, and for seventh grade music, staff are proposing a class focused on music from the early Renaissance to today.
In the area of languages, staff are proposing that students in sixth grade explore Spanish for half a quarter and German for half a quarter, then take a semester of German or Spanish in both seventh and eighth grade.
Due to changing state standards for the arts, middle and high school staff are proposing updates for arts courses. At the middle school, staff are proposing digital media arts courses for grades five through eight. High school staff are also proposing classes that incorporate more digital media arts.
Other courses staff are proposing at the high school include a target games course that would feature golf, archery and frisbee golf, among other activities, and a course about food from different parts of the globe. As not many students registered for AP physics in the past, but enough did sign up for the school to have an honors physics class, Anderson said, staff are proposing an honors physics course.
Other courses middle school staff are proposing center on organizational skills, goal planning and career exploration for those not already enrolled in an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) elective covering those topics.
The School Board will next meet on Thursday, January 21, at 6 p.m. The meeting may be viewed at https://winonak12mnus.finalsite.com/district/school-board/live-stream.