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‘Freshman Focus’ Program Comes Under Fire at School Board Meeting

Some board members angry that program was started without board approval

A program supporters say was designed to help ease the transition of freshmen into high school came under fire at the Sept. 19 Board of Education meeting.

The program, called Freshman Focus, was started at the high school this year, principal James Bevere told the school board during a 15-minute presentation.

Although Bevere spoke highly of the program – which is mandatory for high school freshmen – some parents at the meeting did not, and board vice president Eva Nagy proposed a successful motion directing the district administration to study whether the district could face any legal consequences because the program was never approved by the school board.

“We need to find out what the legal ramifications are,” she said. “If the students cannot opt out, there seems to be some role for the board.”

“Who decided that this had to happen?” she asked. “There’s no backing from the board on this, one way or the other.”

“Why did this not come to the board before and is this coming to the board for approval?” she asked.

“This is a program, not a course of study,” schools Superintendent Edward Seto told her.

Bevere told the board that studies show that students who have a positive freshman year stay in school.

That’s important for Franklin, Bevere said, because statistics show most Franklin high school dropouts do so between the 9th and 10th grades.

Using the Franklin High School Class of 2014 as an example, Bevere said that the class started with 563 students and now has 408. He said the biggest drop came between freshman and sophomore years, when the class lost 84 students.

Also, Bevere said, 38 percent of disciplinary cases in the high school are freshmen.

“It’s very hard to play catch-up when you lose your freshman year,” he said.

But some board members had doubts about the program.

Board member Keisha Smith-Carrington said she was worried that the program would deprive freshmen of the chance to take as many course credits their first year as they otherwise would have. She said this could have ramifications later on if the students don’t have enough credits to graduate.

High school students need 120 credits to graduate, and most take between 35 and 40 credits a year, Bevere said.

“I’m concerned about students not having an opportunity from the beginning to get every possible credit,” she said. “This could have been constructed as a course” for credit.

Bevere told her that the freshmen would have no trouble earning enough credits to be promoted into their sophomore year.

Smith-Carrington acknowledged that there is a need for a freshman transitional program, but, she said, “it would be more beneficial for our children to have the opportunity to get every available credit.”

She said she’d like to see the students come out of the program with at least 2.5 credits.

Smith-Carington then proposed that as an amendment to a motion made earlier by Nagy to have the administration research the legality of requiring students to take a program or course that did not have board approval.

The amended motion did not receive a second. A proposed amendment to her own motion by Nagy to send the issue for study to the board’s curriculum committee met the same fate.

Nagy initially wanted the administration to report back to the board at its Sept. 23 meeting, but Seto said that was not going to happen.

Board member Robert Trautman proposed a successful amendment to have the administration report back to the board at its October meeting.

The board later approved Nagy’s amendment motion.

After the vote, several parents told the board that they were not impressed with the program.

Ilene Rosen of Somerset read the board a description of what happened the first two weeks of teh program, as related by her child.

Rosen’s narrative showed that teachers arrived late and thought the class was a study hall.

“The course has suffered from poor planning and bad implementation,” she said.

And while it is well-intentioned, she said, “to the students, it’s a joke.”

There was some talk among board members that the program result in public service work credits. Rosen said her daughter already does enough of that.

“I would rather my daughter have the opportunity to take another class,” she said.

Myra Mitchel of Somerset, a retired teacher who works as a substitute in the district, said the program is a mystery to her.

“I don’t know who or what this course is about,” she said. “We are in a dilemma, what do we do now? We have all these students in a course that has not been approved.”

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