Your View: Drop human growth class requirement to make T.C. world-class


To the editor:
Alexandrians have heard plenty about the process underway to transform T. C. Williams High School, the citys only public high school, into a world-class high school. The May 2010 Transformation Plan lists equipping every learner with 21st century skills through a fundamental shift in how we think about student learning and how we work as one of the goals.
As a former school board member, I fully support the work and goals of all those involved in this almost Herculean process. I also believe the transformation and high school educational experience would be significantly enhanced by eliminating the fundamentals for human growth and development course as a requirement for graduation from Alexandria City Public Schools. This would free up resources for other areas of instruction and provide students with the opportunity to take courses they are truly interested in when developing their individual achievement plans.
It is my understanding that ACPS is the only school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia that has this course as a graduation requirement. If this is such a valuable course, one would think other school districts (e.g. Fairfax, Arlington and Loudon counties) would require it. These districts appear to be meeting the Commonwealths statutory requirements for instruction in family life education in a more efficient, student friendly and 21st century way.
Granted, any student can opt out of this requirement by paying close attention to the guidance given in the program of studies planning guide, but why does ACPS insist on making students and parents/guardians jump through these administrative hoops in the first place? As former school board member Mark Eaton noted when he was deliberating on this same issue as a board member in 2004, . . . staff is accepting a substantial challenge in communicating the paradox of a graduation requirement subject to an opt-out for any reason or no reason to successive classes of secondary students and their families. Six years later we continue this paradox to the detriment of those the schools are meant to serve.
I do not object to ACPS offering this class as an option for students if there is a legitimate market-driven demand for it. My discussions with ACPS staff over the past several years tell me that while they acknowledge human growth and development is in fact an elective, they prefer to continue portraying it as a requirement, and place the burden of opting out of the course on the student/parent/guardian.
As a school board member during the development of the 2008 ACPS budget, I asked staff for the estimated fiscal impact of discontinuing human growth and development as a standalone course and incorporating the subject matter in health, physical education and psychology courses. The response was a net savings of approximately $385,000 and elimination of 6 full-time employee positions.
ACPS would have to petition the state board to change the school divisions graduation requirements. Given the current academic status of T. C. Williams, this petition would likely receive favorable consideration.
Near the end of its January 13, 2011 meeting, the school board considered the 2011-2012 program of studies and received a briefing from staff on proposed changes.  While several courses were proposed for addition, no changes were proposed for human growth and development. A final vote is planned for January 20 in order to facilitate next years scheduling of classes.
Unfortunately, this fast tracking of decisions with minimal time for public consideration or comment is becoming a hallmark of the current school board and administration. I suggest the board set aside a final decision and encourage public comment on the proposed program of studies. This would demonstrate a commitment to the following statement in the transformation plan: Our belief is that partnerships with parents and the community are an important and essential part of students success.