Erin Schmidt, ESchmidt@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 7, 2005 - Amphitheater Public Schools is considering increasing the required courses for students to receive a diploma.
The district has formed a committee of principals, teachers, administrators, counselors and parents to evaluate the required courses for high school students.
The fourteen-member High School Graduation Requirements Committee has been meeting for more than three months reviewing data from the senior years of district high school students, said Richard Faidley, executive director of student services.
To graduate from Amphi, students must complete 20 credits, the minimum required by the Arizona State Board of Education, which regulates the state graduation requirement standards.
Within the Northwest and Foothills, Catalina Foothills School District requires students to take 22.5 credits to graduate, and Marana Unified School District requires 22.
In order to stay competitive with other school districts, and to ensure students are getting the most of their high school experience, the Amphi committee is making a recommendation to the superintendent to review the graduation requirements, and possibly call for an increase, Faidley said.
Nothing is finalized, meaning the item will not appear on the school board agenda until Superintendent Vicki Balentine approves it to be there, he said.
Faidley will meet in the coming weeks with Assistant Superintendent Patrick Nelson to solidify the committee's next steps.
"There have been no decisions made as to what we will do," he said. "It's just one of those things. Based on the changing world, we need to make sure we stay connected with what's best for our students and preparing them for the future."
"Twenty years ago, a high school diploma was a different entity," he said, adding that it meant more.
The committee focused much of its findings on a national study by the Woodwrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, "Raising Our Sights, No High School Senior Left Behind, A National Commission on the High School Senior Year." The foundation was formed in 1945 as an independent, nonprofit organization, which supports education in the liberal arts by forming educational ideas into practical and innovative programs.
In the study, a core curriculum was recommended to fully prepare students for secondary education, whether it is a four-year college or a two-year school, he said.
Within the study, three years of math and science were recommended, along with four years of English and three years of social studies.
"In order to be prepared for the challenges of the 21st century," he said, the courses needed to be completed by the end of the student's senior year.
Canyon Del Oro High School Principal Michael Gemma sat on the committee. Since no recommendation has been made to the school board, Gemma did not want to comment directly on the findings of the committee.
"It hasn't gone to the board yet," Gemma said. "I really don't feel comfortable talking about it until it goes through the process. I could put a board member in an awkward position."
No matter what the recommendation of the committee, the goal of a high school is to make sure students are receiving the most out of their educational experience, he said.
"The encouragement for all students, whether they are college bound or not college bound is to take full advantage of the curriculum offered," Gemma said. "Here you are, you're at a free public education and whether your goal is college or whether your goal is the workforce right after high school."
A typical student at CDO takes five or more classes in their senior year, but only four classes are required.
"Our typical student is taking 5.5 classes overall," he said. "The vast majority of our students graduate with more requirements than we require ourselves."
Counselors and teachers encourage students to take as many courses as would benefit them, he said.
"Here you have this wonderful curriculum, full of all sorts of choices," Gemma said. "Our message to our students has always been, take full advantage of what you have in front of you. Especially now, when it is free."
Jan Truitt, MUSD assistant superintendent of instruction and former principal of Marana High School, echoes the thought of taking advantage of public education.
Within MUSD, students are required to take 22 credits to graduate, two more than the Amphi district.
Truitt admits 22 credits is a lofty requirement and it often prompts students to take summer courses to finish on time. Even with the high expectation, she is confident the district prepares students for the next phase in education.
"We don't have many students that graduate early," she said. "We shouldn't force kids to take more classes in high school, but there are some great programs in schools."
At Catalina Foothills High School, Counselor Jay Christopher finds more stu dents are taking classes that may not be required, but are needed for a college degree.
CFSD requires 22.5 credits to graduate, one of the highest in the state.
"There's a lot of stuff that is above and beyond," Christopher said.
For students to get into Arizona state universities, they must complete four credits of English, four of math, three credits of lab science, two credits of social studies and two credits of a foreign language, along with one fine art credit.
To get a diploma from CFSD, students must complete all but one credit of math, and 1.5 units of social studies, compared to the state university requirements.
It is vital that students work closely with a high school counselor to ensure they are taking the credits that will serve them in their secondary education, he said.
Students are to avoid the "double whammy," as he refers to it, which occurs when a student is required to take a course at a college, and pay the tuition, but it doesn't go toward their degree. If students take those courses during high school, it would better serve them, and would be a lot cheaper, he said.
Unlike Amphi and MUSD, Catalina Foothills School District does not offer vocational programs, such as shop class and culinary arts. It is a decision the governing board has made, Christopher said.
CFSD focuses more on health, science and other academic courses, instead of vocational programs, he said.
No remedial courses are offered within the district, except for special education students, he said. Courses are offered at standard, honors and advanced placement levels.
While the courses are demanding, Christopher said, counselors and teachers are always available for extra help.
"It's not like we're throwing babies to the wolves," he said.