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Harwood takes time evaluating proposal for ninth-grade regrouping

By Rachel Goff

Last week, the Harwood Union School Board reassured parents and students that the co-principals' proposal to regroup classes for ninth-graders would not move forward without community input and support.

At Harwood, "there are committees meeting every day talking about ideas," Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert said at the board's meeting on Wednesday, January 22. "Sometimes, those ideas get misinterpreted as decisions."

Harwood Union High School co-principals Amy Rex and Lisa Atwood presented their proposal to eliminate honors classes for freshmen and create more "heterogeneous" ninth-grade groupings to the board on December 18 of last year, but not before the spread of misinformation prompted public outcry.

"We're not eliminating the honors in 10th through 12th [grade]," Rex clarified last month. "In ninth grade, we're looking at structuring it differently," she said.

Rather than "eliminating honors classes," Rex uses the term "regrouping" when talking about the changes that could affect incoming freshmen. Traditionally, schools have relied on tracking, or grouping, students according to ability level, but Rex and Atwood believe that there are many different ways to group students, including by their readiness, learning styles and interests. With regrouping, students would still have the ability to earn an "honors" distinction by completing certain criteria.

Moving forward, "it's important for everyone to come to the table with the same information," co-principal Lisa Atwood said last Wednesday. To do so, upcoming meetings on the proposal will likely take the form of panel discussions followed by questions and comments, Atwood said. She and Rex plan to reach out to different student groups, as well as parents and teachers.

"I'd like all of us to view this as an inquiry," school board chair Deb Hunter said. When asked who would have the final say on the proposal, Hunter replied, "I don't even think we've gotten to the point where we know who decides in the end."

And as with all proposals, Scheffert said, "there are checks and balances in this system."

As the board continues to investigate the pros and cons of regrouping, Sheffert stressed the importance of evaluating the proposal from all sides. "There's another part of this conversation that we're not talking about," she said, which has to do with evaluating the effectiveness of honors classes in general at Harwood—and not just whether or not ninth-graders should be taking them.

To update the public on the proposal, Atwood and Rex have created a "road map" of approximate meeting dates. The next meeting is a community forum scheduled for Thursday, January 30, at 6:30 p.m. in either the Harwood Union library or auditorium (to be determined).

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