AHS to allow proficient students to opt out of some classes

Ashland High School parents overwhelmingly want the district to allow proficient students to opt out of classes such as ninth-grade English in order to save money and hopefully spare deep cuts to electives programs, they told Superintendent Juli Di Chiro at a meeting Thursday.

"It could save money," Di Chiro said, "because it's not as expensive to assess proficiency as it is to provide a semester-long class. It's one strategy."

Next academic year the district plans to allow some honors students to demonstrate proficiency in certain subjects, such as ninth- and 10th-grade English and geometry, by compiling a portfolio of work that they must defend before a teacher. If the students pass the examination, they will be allowed to skip the semester course and take an elective or possibly graduate early, Di Chiro said.

"I constantly hear the lament of kids who don't have enough room in their schedule to take all the classes they want to, and this would give them some more freedom," said Jana Carole, whose daughter is a sophomore at the high school.

The district is also considering eliminating programs, cutting school days, laying off teachers or freezing salaries to balance its budget. Di Chiro is working to close an expected $1.3 million budget gap for next academic year.

"There really isn't anything left to cut," she said. "But one thing I keep in mind, when I make these decisions, is the impact on students. I always try to think about that first."

The two dozen parents and community members at Thursday's evening meeting said they would prefer to have the district freeze teacher salary and benefits rather than lay off instructors or cut school days.

"As a teacher, I'd rather take a pay cut rather than cut school days or teachers," said Mike Rogan, a teacher at Crater High School who has two children at Ashland High School. "I think cutting days is difficult and impacts the education kids get."

Using handheld clickers, parents weighed in on questions Di Chiro asked using one of the district's interactive whiteboards.

Parents overwhelmingly said the highest priority in the budgeting process should be to preserve the high school's elective programs, such as mechanics, art, band and drama. A handful of parents said instead that low class sizes and special needs programs should be the top priority.

When asked to rate the importance of the high school's extra programs, the majority of parents said they most valued fine and performing arts, such as band and painting. Some parents said they most valued technical classes, such as mechanics and welding, and a few said athletics were most important.

District officials will use the feedback from the meeting as they draft the budget over the few weeks, Di Chiro said.

She has yet to unveil specifics about what cuts the district could see next academic year because administrators are still working to craft the budget. In April Di Chiro will present a list of proposed cuts to the School Board.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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