New courses considered for local high schools
SANFORD — Students in Lee County high schools could have many more decisions to make next year when signing up for classes.
If the Board of Education approves a proposed list of new courses at its next meeting Tuesday, the district will add three new Advanced Placement classes, two new Career and Technical Education classes and a host of other general and honors classes, mostly focused on science, starting in the 2013-14 school year.
"I think it'll be very beneficial to our students," Tina Poltrock, the district's director of secondary education, said Thursday, adding that the increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is especially exciting. "... Increasing the number of courses we offer will prepare our children for wherever life is going to take them."
Of the seven new honors and general courses, six fall directly under the science and technology headings of STEM education, while the seventh, photography in science, straddles the boundary between STEM and liberal arts.
On the other hand, the three AP classes — art history, music theory, and 2D studio design — are decidedly in the liberal arts tradition. Poltrock said if the three are approved, it will signal a near doubling in AP courses from when the current seniors were first signing up for high school classes.
"I want to say that about four years ago, we offered 10 AP courses in the county, and now we are up to 19 — which is absolutely fantastic," she said. "... (students) could have two years of college credit by the time they get their diploma."
In AP classes, students take an exam graded on national standards on a scale of one to five. Generally, colleges and universities offer course credit for scores of three or better, with some schools rewarding the highest scores with credit for several different college courses. At UNC-Chapel Hill last year, for example, incoming students could earn eight hours of class and lab credit for a five in AP biology, physics or chemistry classes.
"Some of these courses, for example, chemistry II honors and zoology honors, could help students if they're interested in taking AP courses," she said. Although students are allowed to go straight into AP classes, or to take them after a year of the general or honors level, Poltrock said classes like second levels of biology and chemistry — or new subjects like zoology and ecology — can help students who need an extra boost before taking an AP class.
Poltrock also said efforts at the middle school level to put students into more rigorous, high school level classes — including encouraging some students to take high school classes online — have paid dividends, a strategy Superintendent Jeff Moss also emphasized during his annual "State of the Schools" address in October when he explained how the district had enrolled 968 students in AP classes in the 2011-12 school year, up from 569 in 2009-10.
"You can only arrive there if students have the proper foundational background," he said.
For students interested in a different path, Poltrock said, the two new CTE classes — Quickbooks accounting and veterinary assisting — will open a wide range of opportunities by letting students become certified in those fields.
"By having a certification, if they choose to work in that area, that shows their employer they're serious," she said. "... I think if you're looking at employees that have the same qualifications, but one has this certification and the other does not, it certainly puts (the certified student) in a better position."
Even if the full list of classes is approved by the board Tuesday during its 6 p.m. meeting at Lee County High School, Poltrock said, the classes will only be taught if enough students sign up. At this point, there are no plans to hire additional teachers, although she said that might change if demand is overwhelming.
The board will also consider a list of classes to be added only at Southern Lee, for the students accepted into the Hospitality and Tourism Academy.