The Kingston City School District is delaying plans to offer combined honors and Regents-level English and Social Studies courses for freshmen, but despite concerns from parents and teachers alike, school officials explained that a decision implementing the program for the 2023-24 school year has already been made.
During a meeting of the Board of Education held on Monday, March 28, Superintendent Paul Padalino said details of how the program will work are still being hammered out, in part because some teachers were concerned they were ill-prepared to begin in the fall of 2022.
“There’s still a lot of misunderstanding and confusion,” Padalino said. “Obviously we’ve heard from our community members, but most importantly, we’re hearing from our teachers. The issues we’re having (are) around a feeling of not being prepared to make this change for September…So what we are recommending at this point is we take a step back. We double down on our P.D. (professional development) and our support efforts to build capacity within our faculty and staff.”
Padalino explained that the classes will see honors and Regents-level students taught simultaneously, with the option of choosing the level of curriculum they’d like to focus on. For that to be successful, teachers will have to teach to both levels.
“The issue at this point I think is making sure our teachers have the comfort level and feel they have the skill, and the training, and the P.D. to make these changes within this program — teaching at two levels at the same time,” he said. “Obviously differentiation is one of the things that is a hallmark of great teaching, but this is a little different than traditional differentiation.”
He added that concerns from teachers weren’t solely coming from those who’ll be teaching the courses.
“There was a little bit of fear of, ‘Why is this happening? What is next? What’s the plan going down the road?’ — those kind of things,” Padalino said. “Those are legitimate concerns of ours and of our teachers…Our work so far at the high school really has been with the teachers who were directly involved, and it has not been really with the whole faculty or staff.”
School Board member Suzanne Jordan said the need to postpone adopting the mixed classes show how crucial it is to involve teachers in the process every step of the way. “It indicates we really need the teachers in on those planning and in those conversations early on, because they can raise concerns that can be addressed during the process rather than wait till the end and then have their concerns,” she said.
Other trustees felt that the district hadn’t done a good enough job of communicating the plan with parents, and stressed that even with the changes put off for another year, clarification should happen sooner rather than later.
“I have to admit I’ve been somewhat troubled by this,” said Board member Cathy Collins. “I think I’m feeling the stress of the community dialogue and getting calls and I’ve been just sort of distressed over the lack of communication in all directions. So I’m pleased to have this meeting and get some clarity for our community.”
Petition to stop the program has more than 600 signatures
Some of that community dialogue has found a home in an online petition called Stop the Removal of Honors Classes at Kingston High School, which as of the time of this writing has 623 signatures. Several people also left comments deriding the plan to blur the lines between honors and other classes, with many concerned that doing so would deny academically gifted students the chance for a course of study commensurate with their abilities.
“Honors classes and similar opportunities are the only reason we’ve stayed in the Kingston district,” wrote Aileen Helsley. “Changing this track could force a lot of families to look at other educational options.”
“I cannot understand the thought process behind removing these classes at all,” wrote Karen Martin. “Things are already so bad at KHS — why remove something so positive?”
Damon Brodhead put it succinctly. “Our children deserve better,” he wrote.
But some members of the school board say the change could be beneficial to the equity to all students, including those on an honors track.
“I really support this initiative,” said Board member Robin Jacobowitz. “I think it will be great for our students. I think it’s an important equity initiative.” Jacobowitz pointed to the Kingston High School band as a model for successfully mixing different skill levels of students who all want to learn. “We have students who are new to an instrument playing next to level six NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) students, and they’re playing together and it’s successful and everybody rises up.”
Math and science, too
In addition to working out the details of the English and Social Studies offerings, following the plan in other areas of study are also under discussion. “We have some thoughts around math and science as far as how this could work, and the humanities and how it could work,” Padalino said.
The superintendent added that students would receive homework in line with their level of study.
“I know one of the rumors flying around is that students who choose to take the honors class are receiving (more) packets to go home, extra on top of what they do now,” Padalino said. “That’s not the case. There will have differentiated assignments. Their assignments will reflect the student who’s challenging the honors course, and the other students have assignments will reflect someone who’s not taking the honors course…More isn’t always better…More is sometimes just more.”
During the meeting, the subject continued coming back to messaging, not only how the district could have done better in the past, but also how it can keep teachers and families in the loop going forward. The superintendent said he expects the district will begin giving clearer details on the plans soon, even though the differentiated program won’t begin for over a year.
“We should have been more engaged with our 8th grade parents earlier,” Padalino said. “That’s what this kind of a step back gives us the opportunity to do.”