Groups recommend Ellis curriculum plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 16, 2003

A revised Ellis Middle School curriculum was approved for recommendation Wednesday at a joint meeting of the Austin School District curriculum committee and high-potential parent advisory group.

The curriculum plan still needs to be approved by the Austin School Board before it can be implemented.

Candace Raskin, Ellis principal, has been working on a new curriculum since the beginning of the school year. The district made it one of her goals when she began her position at Ellis, said Sheila Berger, educational service director.

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Because of financial concerns at the state level, Raskin had to consider the district's budget capabilities while still allowing enough options for the students to try many subject areas, Berger said.

Most of the changes came in the electives.

In the proposed curriculum, sixth graders would have the option of taking band, orchestra and choir because those classes will each be held two times every six days, Raskin said. On the days band students, for example, do not have band, they would have a study hall. Those not involved in any music would have a study hall during that time.

"Kids really need more support to get work done," Raskin said. "For certain kids, it's better to have more support during the day."

Sixth graders also would have the option of taking math and reading courses that help them meet their needs in those areas. Theses classes would be offered before and after school.

Raskin also proposed that the sixth graders go back to having a home room teacher.

In the proposed seventh grade plan, the life skills and computer application classes would become quarter classes. These classes would also be taught in eighth grade.

Life skills, a course about drugs and alcohol and human sexuality, would cover drugs and alcohol and part of the human sexuality component, Raskin said. The rest of the human sexuality information would be taught in eighth grade.

Raskin said during planning, there was some debate over how the course should be split up.

"We wouldn't do any drug and alcohol until eighth grade when it's too late," she said if the curriculum were switched.

Students in music would take a year-long elective in either band, choir or orchestra. Students not in music could choose from a year-long study hall or two semester-long classes in manufacturing, family consumer science or study hall. A year-long A+ Reading/Mathematics course would be offered to those who need additional help in those areas, she said.

"The kids get a lot of options in their day," Raskin said.

Some classes would be dropped in the seventh grade, including Web page design, study skills and general music.

In eighth grade, more emphasis would be put on writing in the Communication: Written and Oral class. Some committee members questioned this, saying many students excel in oral communications.

"I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for that class," said student committee member Nancy Nelson, a junior at Austin High School.

Raskin reassured the group that the oral part of the class would not be taken away, but that the language arts teachers have noticed that, overall, students' writing skills need improvement.

Eighth graders in the 2003-04 school year would still take art, but after that year the second half of the life skills class would take its place, Raskin said.

Students would also take a quarter-long introductory Spanish class and two graphic technology courses.

A Chamber choir would be added to the eighth-grade choir and a early morning jazz band would be offered, Raskin said. Those not in music could choose from year long art, study hall or A+ Reading/Math classes or pick two semester-long classes of Advanced Woodworking, A+ Reading/Math or plastics. Working as an office/library aide or taking a study hall are also options for a semester elective.

The committees approved the plan and will recommend it to the school board when it meets Jan. 27.

Raskin showed her gratitude and thanked the committee for their time.

"I have gone through this thing so many times," she said.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at