Monday, February 5, 2007

Back to School in February???

If you are the parent of an 8th grader, then you know exactly what I am talking about. For 8th graders in the Dysart Unified School District, it's time to pick elective courses for that freshman year of high school.

I attended the parent meeting this past week at Willow Canyon H.S. located in the city of Surprise, and for the most part I enjoyed the presentation held in the auditorium (minus the giddy girls who couldn't decide whether to stay in their front-row seats, or converse in the lobby). Overall, the presentation was well-prepared and well-presented.

I did find it quite interesting that the students may decide for themselves which level of difficulty per course they wish to take. When I was about to enter high school - 20 years ago - I remember having to obtain teacher recommendations for any classes that were considered "accelerated." I do understand that many students have untapped potential, and possibly by choosing their own course of study, they may finally have the opportunity to prove what they are capable of when given the chance. But my next question would be: What is the reasoning behind "placement testing?" which also took place last week for 8th graders. I'm not against placement testing, I just wonder if this is another "test" taking up valuable teaching time.

Anyway, back to the original question at hand... choosing courses. In many districts, simply attending classes at the high school down the street is a thing of the past. More and more, districts are choosing to offer "specialized" courses/programs at one or more of their high schools. For example, in the Dysart U.S.D., the "Signature Programs" offered are: Architectural Design, Automotive Technology, Early Childhood Education, Financial Services, Information Technology, JROTC, and Medical Occupations at Dysart High; Allied Health, Culinary Arts, Law & Public Safety, and Fire science at Valley Vista High; and Allied Health, International Baccalaureate, & Small Business Management at Willow Canyon High. The purpose of signature programs is to give students a step-up into the path of the chosen career/program. For many students this provides a first-hand awareness of the program without the risk of a wasted college career/elective. I wish I had had the opportunity to try various classes to help me decide my career path.

While I believe that the decision of school officials to provide these signature programs is admirable, I wonder how they decide which school will provide which programs. As a former teacher, I realize the desire to equalize opportunities for all students, and the efforts made to equalize the ethnic population at all schools. I applaud the district's efforts, and hope that more parents will be open to allowing their child to attend whichever school provides the program in which the student is most interested.

I believe the Dysart U.S.D. has gone the extra mile in offering these programs by also providing transportation from the student's home school for students attending a different school's signature program. For example, my son is in the Willow Canyon attendance boundaries, but if he chooses a signature program offered at Valley Vista or Dysart, then he will go to Willow Canyon first & be given bus transportation to Valley Vista or Dysart...whichever has the program he chooses. This should not be confused with open-enrollment... If a student chooses to attend one of the other district schools because all of his/her friends attend there, but does not choose to participate in one of their signature programs, then transportation is not provided.

February 8th, 2007 is the deadline to turn in the paperwork for incoming freshmen in the Dysart U.S.D. If you have not seen the 07-08 Course Selection Guide yet, I would encourage you to request one at the elementary school where your child attends, or click here to view one online.

For those of you who reside in a different school district, call your local District Office to find out what programs are offered at the various high schools. If your district does not offer special programs at this point, don't remain idle. Get involved and find out when they will offer them, or what they are offering in place of them. If you still aren't satisfied, research the surrounding districts and find one that provides the education for your child. You must remain involved in your child's education. If you are planning to fund your son/daughter's college - even partially - you don't want to pay for classes they don't need, especially when they might have been able to try it out for free in high school.

If you have just moved to the valley or are preparing to and you are starting your search for a home on the internet, you might want to check out the websites of the school districts in the valley. Bear in mind, this list includes the websites for all Arizona school districts with websites. Any one of us in the Butterworth Group will be happy to help you find a new home within the attendance area of a great school! And don't forget, the value of your home can be affected by the school and/or district it happens to feed into.

I hope you have found this information helpful! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, I'd love to hear from you!