2011-12-28 / Education

Amherst Central examines electives at high school

by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

With a looming budget shortfall and the potential loss of 30 employees for the 2012-13 school year, the Amherst School Board is examining all areas in the district that could be impacted. The focus of the Dec. 20 meeting was on high school electives.

“It’s important to understand what we have, what is mandated and that these could be impacted as we start to make decisions in the next month or so regarding programs,” said Superintendent Laura Chabe. “I thought it would be important for everyone to understand the magnitude of what we have to offer and what is at risk as we make some of our decisions.”

Amherst students need 22 credits to graduate with a Regents diploma and 24 to receive an advanced Regents diploma. High School Principal Greg Pigeon said many students graduate with between 23 to 28 credits.

Pigeon said the State Education Department mandates students to take four years of English and social studies, three years of mathematics and science and at least one credit in a foreign language and fine arts. He said 60 to 70 percent of Amherst students take a fourth year of math and science.

The state also requires 3.5 elective credits but it is undefined. Amherst funnels 1.5 of the 3.5 electives to half-credit courses for career, finance and family management, practical arts and computer.

The career, finance and family management course — financial independence and responsibilities connected to family life — satisfies the state requirement for parenting, career development and occupational studies. It is for select sophomores and all juniors and seniors.

The practical arts courses range from technology classes like mechanical drawing and video production to a family and consumer science course about gourmet foods.

Computer science courses are offered in Microsoft Word, computer applications and video game programming and 3D animation.

Another two electives can come from business courses, music courses, fine arts courses, or academic electives in English/ Language arts, math, social studies, science, and foreign language.

Electives in sustaining critical thought and health care studies are held at Daemen College.

Pigeon said having a rich option of electives creates many learning opportunities for students and keeps them engaged in the whole high school experience.

Pigeon has first-hand experience. He said when he was in high school, he took a five-year sequence of business courses that led him to a business major in college.

He said electives best represent many post-secondary programs and future employment opportunities. He also said research clearly indicates that students in career and technical education and fine arts programs demonstrate stronger academic results and graduation rates. He said reductions in electives will result in more study hall placements.

In another matter: board member Leslie Kramer said the Amherst Alumni Foundation will work with the district’s alternative funding sources committee to help raise funds. The committee is also looking at corporate sponsorships, before and after school programs and grants as other possible revenue avenues.

Board President Bill Blanford reviewed board goals of communication and academic achievement from a work session prior to the regular meeting.

The communication goal is to make information available as clear as possible to the community and to respond in a responsive, timely manner. The academic achievement goal has not been solidified but includes the examination of specific assessment levels in sub-aggregate groups that will be most impacted. Multiple measures over multiple years will be used to measure their progress.

The board also:

 Gave retiring Athletic Director Nancy Riccio a crystal apple for her 22 years of service to the district.

 Appointed health teacher JoAnna Fildes as a teacher on special assignment to Patrick Murphy, assistant principal and director of health, physical education and athletics at the high school effective Jan. 3. Fildes will retain her seniority in the tenure area of health.

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