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‘Pounding square pegs in round holes’

SPRING VALLEY – Work has begun on Hall High School’s $32 million replacement facility, but for Superintendent Mike Struna, an update on the project wasn’t the most important topic at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Struna said the curriculum and programs that will be offered to students in that new building should have the highest priority.

During the referendum process this spring, Struna said he was often asked what the district is doing about curriculum.

“We’re doing a good job with college preparation, but not such a good job with career preparation,” he said.

Struna said 10 percent of graduates go to a four-year college, 75 percent go to IVCC, and 15 percent enter the military or job market.

“Our curriculum should match this, and I don’t think it does,” he said.

Struna said emerging technical careers are health science, manufacturing, alternative energy, finance, transportation and distribution, information technology, architecture and construction, research and development, and agriculture and natural resources.

He then reviewed graduation requirements, which include only 5.5 credits of elective classes.

“Most of what we require is very academic and there’s not a lot of vocational,” Struna said. “I feel like we’re pounding square pegs in round holes, and it isn’t working.”

Not having classes to reflect students’ needs and desires is resulting in declining attendance and graduation rates, including an increasing dropout rate and number of students needing help.

Struna said 24 juniors and seniors attend the LaSalle-Peru Area Career Center to take courses in subjects from health occupations and computer aided design to auto mechanics and welding. However, nothing is offered to freshmen and sophomores to give them a taste of these subjects.

Struna talked about linked learning, which combines both academic and technical learning. Nearby high schools offer more of these linked learning courses, such as introduction to technology, computer aided drafting, accounting, economics, Adobe Art, computer programming, web design, digital media design and technical math.

“Our students are going to compete against these students for jobs,” he said. “We need to diversify our curriculum.”

Struna said the changes can’t be made be adding staff, so some existing courses will need to be dropped to make way for the new classes. There will be more opportunities for change as there will be seven teachers retiring in the next three years.

Board member Betsy Sobin then discussed recommendations from the curriculum committee.

Several changes can take place immediately. Beginning in the fall, the non-honors English IV course will be revised to focus more on business and technical writing and less on Shakespeare, Struna said.

Information processing will be revised to offer Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher. Also, a technical math class will be made available in the second semester for juniors.

By the fall of 2014, the committee would like to see accounting, business law and introduction to vocational technology classes added, and the separate speech class dropped.

By the fall of 2015, when the new building should be in use, the committee would like to add computer aided drafting, computer programming, web design, digital media design and STEM classes to the curriculum.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

The building process The board heard a presentation by Joel Klahn and Rick Mattioda of Leopardo, the construction management company chosen by the board at the last meeting. Mattioda said their plan is to over-communicate, to provide information to help the board make decisions in a timely manner. Klahn said they have already met with architect Healy Bender, and will meet with the district's maintenance staff in July. Klahn said plans call for erecting the project sign in late July, holding a trade contractors community outreach in late August, and breaking ground in mid-October. "We want to build a world class educational facility that future generations will be proud of," Mattioda said.

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