[Students] are losing time while adults try to get their acts together, and that's a shame.
- Jeanne Nelson, WAPS School Board member
An internal review of whether courses at the Winona Senior High School are aligned with state standards — for what students are expected to learn — shows the vast majority of courses offered at the school are not.
The report, which was recently sent to school board members, has drawn concern from some school leaders, who say the work of aligning curriculum to state expectations has dragged on for years.
The report appears incomplete, and Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Superintendent Scott Hannon said board members will be provided with more detail during the school board meeting on November 7. Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman was unavailable for comment Friday, but Hannon indicated that she was compiling data for the board to examine during the upcoming meeting.
The draft report indicates whether curriculum has been aligned with state standards, showing that most courses are "in progress," which means educators have worked to align the content of the curriculum, but there may be gaps in the required content. Courses labeled as "beginning" the work to align standards, according to the report, are those in which educators are "unsure of what standards are attached to this course."
More than half of the English courses at the school, according to the report, are listed as "in progress," with the remaining courses listed as completely aligned with state standards for coursework. The list does not indicate whether math classes have been aligned with standards, although most courses indicate "guaranteed curriculum" is in place (this appears to be a different measure from whether curriculum is in line with state standards). In the case of intermediate algebra courses, under the "guaranteed curriculum" heading, the report indicates that, "There is a plan in place; working on seeing it happen." For advanced algebra, the report states, "There is a plan that is written; we are still in the discussion stages of how it really happens."
All of the following content areas show every course in the "in progress" phase of curriculum alignment: agriculture, business, industrial technology (one course is aligned), and music.
Eleven science courses are listed as in the "beginning" stage of curriculum alignment, with the rest listed as "in progress." A handful of social studies courses are "in progress," with 19 courses — more than half — listed as in the "beginning" phase.
All but three art courses are in the "in progress" category, and all world languages courses and physical education courses are listed as completely aligned with state curriculum standards.
Board member Ben Baratto, who had been away from home and unable to review the report in much detail prior to an interview with the Winona Post, said he was pleased to see the world languages department had finished the work of aligning curriculum with state-required content. He indicated he was anxious to learn more details about the report, along with ideas for how to move forward. "I think we want a plan and a timeline," he said.
Board member Jeanne Nelson expressed serious concern over the deficiencies noted in the report, and said current students cannot wait years for the district to ensure it is teaching them the things they will need when they get into college or the workforce.
"I would have expected that the high school would be farther along than they are," she said, adding that she had "high hopes" that the work would be finished by the end of the year. But, "It's disappointing when you have to push for things."
Nelson said she felt the public, and — speaking for herself — the board, were growing impatient with years of assurances that the work to align curriculum would be soon over. The elementary schools have done a good job in ensuring that coursework covers content areas expected by the state, added Nelson, but "we don't want to see our kids slipping backwards as they progress into high school."
"We have very fine teachers," Nelson was quick to point out. When she first became seriously active in the district three years ago, Nelson said, "I kept thinking, as adults we can sit here and look at, study, refer [issues] to committees, but take a look at how many years we spend doing that, and our kids have only one year to be in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade," she explained. "They are losing time while adults try to get their acts together, and that's a shame. Our kids have only one shot at going to school."
Some of the work ahead, added Nelson, will be for educators to recognize that they are all in this together. "I think every adult in this community has a reason for wanting these kids to have the best opportunity they can, and there is an urgency," she said.
Board chair Mohamed Elhindi was unavailable for comment for this story. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this issue.