GEARL LODEN: Advanced courses will remain strong under new rules

LODEN

GEARL LODEN

Effective organizations are those that experience continual change and yet hold steadfast to what works. It is no different in the important work of educating students. Amidst all the changes we are experiencing with Common Core, some things will stay the same and actually get stronger. Rigor is one of them. Our commitment and investment in offering rigorous course content remains a high priority. To be clear, advanced courses and Advanced Placement (AP) courses will continue to be provided in our schools. They are and will remain a hallmark of our district.

What has changed – and understandably caused some confusion – is the terminology that the state will ask districts to use in course descriptions. Beginning the next school year, our sixth- through eighth-grade courses will be offered using the terms “general level” or “advanced level.” In these advanced classes, formerly known as “Pre–AP”, the same kind of rigorous content will still be provided; it will be simply termed “advanced.” At Tupelo Middle School, these advanced classes will allow us to offer up to 5 Carnegie Units, up from 3 units this past year. This is exciting because they can be applied to the important high school units necessary for a high school diploma. It’s an excellent head start for our rising high school students.

At Tupelo High School, our ninth- and 10th-graders will continue to take general and Pre–AP courses. Our 11th- and 12th-graders will be offered two choices: general and AP courses. Appropriately challenging instruction will now be taught in these general classes and, of course, will continue to be taught at a higher level in the AP classes.

I recognize that this explanation is a little technical, but it seemed worthy of clarification and reassurance based on what we’ve been hearing recently.

By far, the best thing we can do to sustain rigor is continually investing in the quality of teaching. Supporting our teachers is money well spent. This summer, one-third of THS faculty who teach Advanced Placement classes will attend national conferences so that they can receive in–depth training on how to improve or refresh their existing lesson plans and hone teaching strategies that are specific to their subject areas. We will continue to increase the number of students who take AP courses by identifying these students early and personally inviting them to consider taking one or more of these classes next year. We want to see these numbers grow.

Another measure we are taking is to recruit students who have been exposed to academically demanding classes to take advantage of our PSAT preparation class next year. The PSAT program can help our students in securing substantial scholarship money and in qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship program.

Our partnership with Itawamba Community College in exposing our students to college–level courses continues to strengthen. As we expand the dual enrollment courses next year, more of our students will have completed college credits by the time they graduate from THS.

Finally, the most recent change that is incredibly good news is Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing into law Senate Bill 2571 that allows school districts to retain local control of the start date of school. As such, Tupelo Public Schools will now start school on Aug. 4, which allows our students to complete their course work in the first semester and take exams before the Christmas holidays. This is welcomed news indeed for all stakeholders. Please join me in thanking Bryant and our area legislators for making this possible.

Gearl Loden, Ph.D., is superintendent of the Tupelo Public School District. Contact him through Mary Ann Plasencia at maplasencia@tupeloschools.com.