Science course offering sparks tension between board and teachers

The implementation of the new mandated Next Generation Science Standards in the 2017-18 school year would leave CHS without any sections of Physics in the 2017-18 school year, but after the voiced concerns of many students and parents, the CUSD Board of Education decided to create a single section of Honors Physics to accommodate eight incoming sophomores, despite the recommendations of the CHS science department.

“I suppose the issue is that we [at the science department] feel our specialty is teaching science to students,” AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science teacher Jason Maas-Baldwin says, “and we know how to provide the resources they need to succeed in the sciences. We hoped that the community and board would have realized that.”

Last summer, CHS resolved to implement NGSS starting in the 2017-18 school year, which will result in a change in the science course sequence at CHS, inverting the current order in which students take science classes. Physics will become a junior-level course, and Chemistry will become a sophomore-level course, the opposite of the current system. The plan was to not offer a Physics course in the 2017-18 school year to accommodate the transition. The plan changed when a handful of affected students and their parents came forward.

One such parent is Lisa Talley Dean, mother of Grace Dean, a current CHS freshman.

“As next year was planned to be the only gap year in many years when Physics was not offered,” Lisa Dean says, “it unfairly impacts the current freshman class, a number of whom are passionate about science and wish to take the class.”

Grace adds on that, although she and her peers would be able to take Physics as juniors, not taking the class next year would interrupt the path to completing their desired science courses before graduation.

“For me, it’s mostly a timing issue,” Grace says. “I plan on taking AP Chem and AP Bio before I graduate. Doubling up on a science next year I expect will be easier than doing so with an AP class. Also, the integration of math in Physics is important for further courses, and the class in general is a good foundational science.”

Following the 2017-18 school year, doubling up on a science during sophomore year will not be a problem, according to CHS principal Rick Lopez. As of now, there are eight rising sophomores signed up to take the single Honors Physics section next year to allow them to take science courses in the sequence that they wish.

“A problem that only affects eight students could have been solved on campus, in my opinion,” one CHS staff member says. “I don’t think this disagreement needed to find its way into the Board leaving our teachers feeling so disheartened.”

Associate Carmel Teachers president Bill Schrier addressed the school board at a public meeting March 8 about the disconcert Maas-Baldwin and the science department expressed and the general role of the board in school policies.

“As a school board member, you have no individual legal authority to fix problems or decide issues,” Schrier said. “There are decisions that are made that are hard to make, and when board members transcend the normal boundaries and get involved in decisions, they complicate it for everyone, and there have been just too many examples of that. We’re asking that any inclination to do what the superintendent is supposed to do not happen. The great things that happen in classrooms happen because teachers inspire, and inspired teachers inspire. Demoralized teachers don’t.”

Schrier’s comments at the meeting were followed by other staff members voicing similar sentiments, specifically regarding the board’s support of the single section of Honors Physics. School board member Rita Patel addressed these concerns in an apology later in the meeting.

“I just want to take this time to apologize to the staff members of Carmel High School,” Patel said. “It really broke my heart when I heard the feedback that I was hearing that people were very upset.”

The current decision to offer the Honors Physics section is subject to change as continued research is conducted in terms of the economics of implementing the course. According to one CHS staff member, the section would cost approximately $20,000.

According to CUSD Board of Education president Dr. John Ellison, the CHS administration is looking further into how many students would be interested in taking Physics next year and will decide on the fate of the course based on the numbers and “implications for the rest of campus.”

Ellison goes on to address frustrations among CHS teachers regarding decision-making processes.

Ellison adds, “I believe that the board and ACT have worked cooperatively for many years and that they will continue to do so going forward despite any controversy over a particular decision made by district administration, even if any individual member of the board might disagree with that decision.”

-Becca Goren