School Committee raises educational bar at AHS
By Roberto Scalese / Staff Writer
Thursday, May 8, 2003

Do you like a challenge? The School Committee hopes students at Arlington High School do.

The board last Tuesday cleared the way for kids to take harder courses and electives, if they wish, in next year's program of studies.
The changes made to the program of studies at the high school are designed to give both the school and students more flexibility in course selection and achievement.

The School Committee's Curriculum and Instruction Subcommittee Chairman Paul Schlichtman said changing the prerequisites to suggested skills allows kids to challenge themselves by moving into a higher course track.

"It takes the rigidity out of the system," said Schlichtman.

Previously, students needed to reach a set of goals, or prerequisites to move up or down a track. The suggested skills explain to students and parents what kind of work ethic, schedule and coursework is expected at each track. The families then decide whether the student is ready to move up a step in his or her education.

"The suggested skills describe what skills a student needs to be successful and it gives students a chance to try a more difficult course if they want to," said Schlichtman.

Students who challenge themselves are more likely to work harder and succeed, said Schlichtman.

AHS Principal Stephen Woodcock said of the 13 waivers he has granted to the prerequisites, allowing students to jump to higher tracks, all 13 have done well in the new, tougher environment.
"Steve Woodcock is really good about this. He wants students to move up and to succeed," said Schlichtman.

The committee also voted to retain the advanced track at the high school, along with the electives listed in the program. Both had been slated for elimination due to the fiscal crisis, but updated numbers from the state allowed Superintendent Kay Donovan to recommend they remain where they are.

"I believe there are a few hundred thousand more that could be coming to the Arlington Public Schools' side of the budget," said Donovan to the School Committee last week.

School Committee Chairman Suzanne Baratta Owayda said the schedule could always be pared down if state and other funding does not come through.

"It's easier to cut down than it is to add these courses back," said Baratta Owayda. "Also, keep in mind that this is all moot if we don't get an override passed."

Schlichtman had suggested that the basic level, now called collegiate I, be removed as a track at the high school. The recent New England Association of Schools and Colleges' accreditation report recommended that Arlington eliminate one of its four tracks. Students currently are placed in either the basic, college prep (now known as collegiate II), advanced or honors track. There are also advanced placement classes offered at the school.

Schlichtman said eliminating the lowest level would be logistically easier to do than eliminate the advanced track. It would also be better for students, he said.

"When you pull out the lower track, you try to push the kids up," said Schlichtman.