Today I want to share my thoughts on the Academy’s academic program. At the SEEL Academy there are no specific course requirements, though the school and each student must complete the proscribed number of years of a particular discipline (Science, Math, Phys Ed…). It will be up to each student, in concert with their guidance counselor and teacher/adviser, to make sure that they are taking classes that will meet college expectations. For those students not interested in college, they are free to take any classes they want within each department. In terms of hiring, what kind of teachers will staff the SEEL Academy? Since the HSPA does not test students in areas other than Math and Language Arts, I’m really not that concerned about teachers meeting the plethora of onerous Cumulative Progress Indicators delineated in the Core Curriculum Content Standards. If the State does in fact begin to introduce subject area tests, it will be up to the teachers in each department to make sure that SEEL’s curriculum tangentially aligns with the State’s CCCS.
In the formative stages of the Academy’s academic program, focus groups will be set up for each department’s staff- though other teachers are free to join in- to brainstorm a list of the content (and skills) that they believe each student MUST know as a prerequisite for graduation. Though this work will include skills, the foundation for the Academy’s skills requirement will be the Core Curriculum being pushed today in the national debate.
So who will be teaching? The first hiring requirement is that the prospective teacher must have a degree in discipline other than education, so yes in fact most if not all teachers will have a “specialized degree.” Education courses could be taken as part of a minor or taken for enrichment once they begin teaching. I will deal with professional development and support in a later blog. Our Science Department will have a Biology teacher, a Physics teacher, and a Chemistry teacher. There may be an engineer, an astronomer, a botanist, a geologist, an environmentalist, or most any other type of subject specialist. The Social Studies Department may include an historian, an economist, a pre-law student, a political scientist, or maybe a sociologist. The Physical Education and Health Department may include a nurse, a physical therapist, or a kinesiologist. You get the picture.
These teachers will be free to design their own semester courses. It is my contention that by hiring individuals with knowledge and passion in a particular area of study and expertise, that the resulting courses will “be” an expression of that knowledge and passion, which are two of the 5 metrics we use to develop and evaluate effective teachers. With proper clinical supervision, these classes will be lively, rigorous forums for true learning.
A smart teacher, one that is determined to engage his or her audience, will design the course in such a way that student interests are also integrated into the curriculum, whether through the required coursework or through activities and assessments that empower students to pursue these personal interests.
I may be overly optimistic about the impact that this intellectual freedom will have on student achievement, but one thing I do know is that whatever is being done today is not working in our urban schools. Intellectual freedom, increased accountability and empowerment are the hallmarks of curriculum development at the SEEL Academy. We will draw on the knowledge and passion of our educators, and hopefully we will see our students demonstrating the same.