by Mitch Lehman
More than seventy-five community members showed up on Monday evening in the Kenneth F. White Auditorium at Huntington Middle School, the vast majority of whom were on hand to protest a proposal to eliminate the Honors English Program for San Marino High School freshmen.
There, Superintendent Loren Kleinrock and Mary Johnson, San Marino High School’s assistant superintendent of counseling and curriculum, defended the concept and assuaged the fears of some in attendance who believed the decision had already been made to shelve Honors English.
In reality, it’s all still in the discussion stage, and if the proposal makes it far enough, the school board will take the matter to a vote at their meeting on Tuesday, March 25.
“We have been dissatisfied with the transition of our eighth graders into ninth graders,” Johnson said, while introducing the lone agenda item. “We have tried so many ways to make it equitable. We want to level the playing field.”
Cece Keeton, chair of San Marino High School’s English Department, told the audience it would be a “win-win” situation for both teachers and students.
“We need to restore the joy of learning to the freshman year,” Keeton said. “There is too much stress. The students are young and need to establish a voice in their writing. We are not trying to hold your children back.”
SMHS English teacher Kim Johns stated that the implementation of the Common Core into the state’s curriculum would “give students tools” for a smoother transition into the high school.
Johnson also mentioned that colleges do not add points to applications for Honors English participation until the 11th grade and that the University of California system does not recognize a ninth grade Honors English course.
“This would not be affecting their grades at all,” Johnson said.
But parents and other community members nevertheless grilled the educators during a question and answer period. One mother likened the proposed elimination of ninth grade Honors English to the district’s “getting rid of GATE.”
“Children are losing their peer group,” she said to a smattering of applause.
One man said his son came home from church crying because the boy’s friends at Temple City and Arcadia High Schools were getting a better education.
Sharla Tindle, who has lived in San Marino for more than forty years and has three grandchildren in local schools said it was “shameful that children who qualify don’t get into GATE or AP. I am not drinking the Kool-Aid. I am not interested in the district lowering the standards, we should be raising the standards.”
At Monday’s meeting, Kleinrock told the assemblage that many “top high schools are dropping Honors English” in the 9th and 10th grade. On Tuesday, he cited La Cañada, Monta Vista, Linbrook, Mira Monte, Piedmont and Saratoga as some of the top-achieving high schools in the State of California – none of them offer ninth grade Honors English.
Though Kleinrock has authority to adjust the curriculum, he told The Tribune that the school board would probably make the ultimate decision in the matter. He also cited time constraints as the calendar for the 2014-15 school year should be completed by April, 2014.
San Marino High School currently offers four classes of freshman Honors English, with approximately one hundred of the school’s 268 freshmen enrolled in the course.
Kleinrock sent the proposal back to the San Marino High School English Dept. to see if it has widespread support among its members.
“Over the years, they have tried many ways to evaluate the students to see if they are prepared for the Honors program,” Kleinrock said. “It has been a challenge,”
“We are looking for an equitable way to determine who would most benefit by being in the Honors program,” said Johnson. “There is a great deal of change between a student in the eighth grade and one in the ninth grade. A lot is going on with the development and the way things are processed. There is a lot of immaturity in junior high. Many kids come alive in high school. We want them to put their best foot forward.”
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