The Albany County School District No. 1 school board voted unanimously during its Wednesday meeting to approve new class offerings at Laramie High School and a new STEM class at Laramie Middle School.
The new classes include a driver’s education course that will be offered at LHS during the school year. Currently, driver’s ed is only offered at LHS during the summer, and the summer session costs students $250.
The new driver’s ed class, with sessions expected to start in fall 2020, will not charge students.
LHS officials said the free version of the class will benefit students who might not have $250 to spare but need a driver’s license to work.
“There’s an equity piece that we’ve always been concerned about,” LHS Principal Chuck Kern said. “We’ve always waived fees when we know about kids who might not take it because of the fee, but we don’t know about the kids who won’t ask if they can take it without a fee.”
During Wednesday's meeting, board member Tammy Johnson asked if the summer class would be free for those who can't take the class during the school year.
"I think we're going to probably have to do that to be equitable," said Assistant Superintendent Debbie Fisher.
The current expectation is to have 2-4 sections of driver’s ed during the school year, Fisher said, but that will also “will depend on the amount of student demand.”
The board vote also adds two more advanced placement classes, including AP Physics and AP World History.
AP classes are part of a national program run by the College Board, who creates the SAT test. More advanced than typical classes, AP classes are designed like introductory college courses and even give the students the chance to earn college credits.
Board member Karen Bienz said AP Physics will be an important asset for some students when they get to college.
“I’m very happy to see this,” she said. “This is the college class that, if you’re going anywhere in terms of engineering, you have to take Physics 1. And to not offer this AP class is really troublesome.”
LHS’s current AP classes in the social studies department include AP U.S. History, AP European History, AP American Government and Politics, and AP Psychology.
LHS social studies teacher Will Plumb said AP World History will be a welcome addition at the high school, especially for students who are frustrated by their current history classes’ focus on Western civilization.
“I’ve been getting a trickle of kids, year by year, who keep asking about it. It’s gotten to the point that the voices are pretty loud,” Plumb said.
LHS is also adding a History of the Holocaust course, which Fisher said she expects will be very popular.
“Kids tend to find that very interesting, and after they learn a little bit (of Holocaust history), they were asking how they can learn more about it,” Fisher said.
That class will have a maximum of 25 students.
“I imagine that we’ll have more than that would want to take a class like this.” Kern said.
With the addition of two new social studies classes, Kern said that some other classes in the department might not be offered every year.
Although she voted in approval, board member Tammy Johnson voiced her concerns about some of the new class sizes, especially for the AP courses, during Wednesday’s meeting.
Given the traditional high workload levels of AP courses, Johnson said the class sizes should be smaller to benefit both the students as they learn and the teachers as they instruct and grade assignments.
“I can promise you as former AP teacher, you can’t have 25 kids in an AP class and do the kind of individualized instruction you need to do and cover all the content,” Johnson said during the meeting. “I think we need to talk about class sizes and how instruction and grading and serving our kids best fits into the picture. … Quality gets compromised when classes are too big.”
Johnson expressed concerns the teachers were pressured into choosing 25 students as a class size, but ACSD No. 1 staff assured the board the new class requests were filled out by the teachers, not administration.
Board chair Janice Marshall pointed out that smaller class sizes and additional courses will mean extra staffing needs and costs.
“At some point we’re going to have to add staff for those courses or other courses are going to have to be dropped off,” she said. “Something’s got to give if we just continue adding and adding. I think if we keep an eye on this as registration comes in, that will be helpful.”
Superintendent Jubal Yennie told the board the class sizes are formally set in February when looking at class registration, enrollments and staffing needs.
The board’s action also creates a new STEM course at LMS.
Principal Kevin O’Dea said the course will be structured to lead into LHS’s engineering offerings.
“This is a way to help meet the new computer science standards,” he said. “It’s kind of a chink in our armor as far as elective offerings are concerned. We have students, who have older brothers, sisters, cousins at the high school, who want to push down those courses to add to the middle school experience. And we also have some needs, as far as filling schedules in offering electives and making the realities of a secondary schedule work. Adding this elective would help appease some pinch points we currently have in our scheduling process.”
The new STEM course is designed to have students address “real-world problems” and O’Dea said it will help middle-schoolers find their interests.
“One of the main things about the middle school experience is that they’re able to try out different things,” O’Dea said. “As you come into your own as an individual and find out where your interests may lie, you want to be an informed participant in your four years at the high school and beyond.”
Fisher said the new STEM course would have a dedicated full-time teacher, and the course is likely to replace a different “elective course that isn’t getting a whole lot of student attention."