Algonquin Principal: School failing to provide adequate PhysEd; additional Gym teacher needed

by beth on January 29, 2014

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Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Charles Gobron forecasted requesting a close to 5% budget increase for Algonquin Regional High School. One of the staffing expenses included in the budget was for physical education.

Some commenters debated the importance.

This week, ARHS Principal Tom Mead sent a message to students’ parents. As they work on course selection for next year, he wanted them to know about important curriculum changes related to physical education.

In the explanation, he defends the importance of the request for increased PhysEd staffing. He explains that the goal is to provide physical education for each school grade (though not each semester).

That is a requirement that they have not been able to meet for several years:

For the past several years, we have been falling short of our requirement to provide adequate physical education for all of our students. During the past 4 years, preliminary budgets have contained requests for additional staffing to meet these requirements, but funding could not be found. This is understandable, in the sense that other mandates and government requirements were considered a higher priority, and thereby received budget support.

Once again, we are requesting additional staff to meet the laws of Massachusetts. Specifically, the law is contained in the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Chapter 71 (Public Schools), Section 3. It reads:

Physical education shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students in the public schools for the purpose of promoting the physical well-being of such students.

With the expectation that the request for additional staff (one teacher) will finally be approved through the budget process this year, we have designed a schedule to provide a health/fitness class for all grades at the high school. Students will take one class in the health and fitness course catalog each year, in the sequence of Personal Fitness, Health, Project Adventure and Outdoor Pursuits, and a senior year program currently under development. That will likely be a limited selection of popular elective classes. We hope our senior classes will encourage lifelong pursuits of physical, emotional, and health fitness, and be consistent with their course and fitness opportunities in college and beyond.

We will phase in this requirement gently for the class of 2015. They will be required to take just one term of the health and fitness program during their senior year. Students in the Class of 2016 will be required to enroll in health and fitness during their junior and senior years. And next year’s sophomores will only take the required Health class. We are sharing this information with you as you begin to plan your students’ course of study for the coming school year.

In the end, this merely adds one more semester to the current requirement we have, but spreads that over 4 years, instead of the current 2. And, while we have an impressive and extensive sports program at Algonquin, athletics are optional, and do not fully meet the state requirement as put forth in Chapter 71. Other academic departments are making tentative adjustments to accommodate this proposed plan, and those will be contained in our upcoming program of studies.

I remember having mandatory “gym class” every semester of high school when I was an Algonquin student in the 80’s. (Fellow alum, is my memory faulty?)

I was shocked when a friend told me recently that not every grade has gym. Does this news surprise you?

(Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

1 SB Resident January 29, 2014 at 2:20 PM

This does surprise me and I have no problem with them hiring a new gym teacher and increasing the requirements for students. In fact I think it should go further. However, to blame this solely on a funding is wrong, this is a priority issue. Whether it is the administrators, the school board, or both, they have decided that everything else that is funded is more important than physical education. I am sure that this change can come just as easily by adjusting priorities vs increasing costs.

2 Matthew January 29, 2014 at 8:55 PM

I’m all for calling out a bad decision but haven’t you learned anything from observing our town politics? It’s NEVER as clear as it seams and no one is every satisfied. It’s called functional chaos. Small town politics. Hurry up and wait…

Would you rather have a monarchy? If not then perhaps you share the same opinion as John Adams in the musical 1776,”I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!”

Small steps, and by your own admission they are even in the right direction.

3 Resident January 30, 2014 at 8:26 AM

Very, very good point.

4 Sophomore's Mom January 29, 2014 at 9:19 PM

I think this requirement is unnecessary. There are too many academic subjects that my child wants to take and finding this out now is getting in the way of her plans. She does two sports — one in the fall and one in the spring and now, on top of that exercise she has to take PE at school — every single day for a whole half year. She will have to not take the electives she was hoping for in order to take PE instead. The class of 2016 are getting hit the hardest — they had to take a full year of PE this year and are now required to take half a year for the next two. This year’s Freshman, only have to take half a year for the next year and subsequent two years.

The bigger question is whether this required PE is going to take all students into account: will there be yoga classes, or aerobics, or dance? Or will it be more team sports where some kids will not feel comfortable competing and will stand on the sidelines? What’s the point in that? My child took project adventure this year in which they didn’t even have to get changed — they just did challenges, that’s not PE, it’s just more team building that they already do in so many other classes.

So many kids are doing outside sports, if they can document that they are doing this, they should be exempt from the PE requirement. In my high school in the 80’s that’s how they handled it.

5 beth January 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM

You and resident have an interesting point.

Just make sure that if that’s what you want, you follow through communicating with the school directly. People should never assume that the school administrators or committees are reading this blog!

6 Resident January 30, 2014 at 8:18 AM

But here’s the other side…

My sophomore daughter is very upset by this. She was looking forward to electives next year. For kids who do music (band, orchestra, or chorus), junior year is the first chance they get to take elective courses. Now she has to do more gym instead. She is on a sports team so has practice every day after school. This extra gym class is not needed. Maybe they should give kids who are on teams an exemption from the requirement.

7 Yet Another Sophomore Parent January 30, 2014 at 11:59 AM

I totally agree with Resident and Sophomore’s mom, above. My son was looking forward to taking additional courses–in fact, he was hoping to take additional AP courses…perhaps Music Theory. That specific course will be decimated by this decision. In the Algonquin Orientation program, much ado is made about the breadth of curriculum choice–but if you are a top student, you’ll be taking four years of language, math, science, etc…add to that band, orchestra or chorus, and you really have few curriculum choices after all. This decision will directly affect some of the school’s top academic achievers; is that what we want?

8 Southville January 31, 2014 at 9:25 AM

Perhaps I’m wrong, but aren’t some of those classes you listed, (band/orchestra, four years of language, etc) already choices? It seems strange to list out the choices you are able to make while also complaining that you don’t get any curriculum choices.

9 Why do we need to hire another Gym teacher? January 30, 2014 at 2:25 PM

If I remember correctly, I saw on this blog a little while back, that the new AD was both Gym teacher and (for a small stipend) Athletic Director in Grafton prior to coming to Algonquin. Why can ‘t she do both here? What changed so much in her job description that she could handle wearing both hats in Grafton but can’t here? It’s not downsizing it’s right sizing. Why spend more taxpayer money when you already have the tools in place?

10 incoming Freshman parent January 30, 2014 at 5:35 PM

it’s the “much ado is made about the breadth of curriculum choice-but if you are a top student….you really have few curriculum choices after all” that Yet Another Sophomore Parent said that is resonating with me. That is *exactly* how I felt when I left the orientation even after I spoke up and asked about course selection during the tour when it was not the “appropriate time”. I felt like they were selling the school to those of us who showed up and I saw through a lot of what they were trying to sell. If you have a child who is bright where are all the choices from the get go?
I don’t need my child taking P.E at the high school level. Sorry. I do not want my child to have to be required to take gym when they are above the age of 13, it is actually rather awkward at this point in 8th grade.
And I love the phrase “right sizing”

11 Kate January 31, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Respectfully, would you mind clarifying why only “bright” children need “choices from the get go”? All schools have required classes – it’s not just our high school. I have one child in college, the others are in their senior and junior years at Algonquin. They have all been well challenged through their time at the school (maybe they are not as bright as some other students??) and I applaud Mr. Mead’s stance on this issue. With all of the pressure on our teenagers to achieve, the anxiety and resulting drug and alcohol use, I don’t personally believe that more physical education is a bad thing. I’d imagine that if your child is a “top student,” on road to Harvard or MIT, a couple of PE classes won’t harm their chances. Perhaps it could be a topic for a college essay.

12 Yet Another Sophomore Parent January 31, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Kate,

I was afraid that this thread might devolve into comments on the “bright,” and I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’ a matter of setting curricular expectations with the parents and students, and then holding to them. My son is losing out on the opportunity to take two electives that he was expecting to take. And I know that the music courses are themselves electives, and kids could choose to drop those and free up space on the schedule–but for many kids, that’s a really difficult choice.

I hear your comment about Harvard/MIT, but I’ve never heard of an admission officer at any level College look at a Transcript and say, “That’s great that you took all these AP and honors courses, but where’s the senior year gym class?”

Sad that some Freshmen are denied the chance to take a foreign language–I was unaware of that.

13 Kate January 31, 2014 at 7:07 PM

My comment was somewhat tongue in cheek – I just couldn’t help commenting when I saw “bright” thrown in there. I was imagining IQ testing for students who want to opt out!

Yes, it is tough to have to drop electives like music to make room for other courses, but fortunately students can always follow their passions outside the school day.

I do agree that it’s likely that Harvard & MIT don’t care too much about gym class, however according to Mass General Law, all pupils are required to take phys ed each year (see below). So it would appear that Mr. Mead is just trying to comply with the law.

14 freshman parent January 31, 2014 at 7:31 AM

I was told my child did not get into Spanish 1 as there was no room in the class- there were actually sophomores who could not get into the class- the problem? Not enough Spanish 1 teachers. Following middle school recommendation my child did not take a language in middle school to allow for additional study- was told for 3 yrs don’t worry start Spanish 1 in high school. Well, now we don’t even know if he can get in as a 10th grader. Not understanding the need for another gym teacher?

15 Kate January 31, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Have you asked about other languages? Latin or French, maybe?

16 Resident February 1, 2014 at 11:29 AM

What you brought up about Spanish is a huge problem. Languages are required for entry into college. How can ARHS not have enough teachers for all students to take a language? They should be looking to add a Spanish teacher, not a gym teacher.

17 incoming Freshman parent January 31, 2014 at 9:02 AM

i can absolutely clarify.
at the open house curriculum night it was apparent that it was a sell for ARHS. the current 8th grade class has an enormous amount of students applying to private schools, the most seen in years. It is actually jaw dropping. And. The. School. Knows. It. So at the open house it was really obvious that they were “selling” their academics, how amazing the “choices” were–but when you start talking to people you realize that you are more boxed in than you think. What “freshman parent” is saying is true and i think that if you don’t have enough academic teachers that is an ENORMOUS problem. So, with that said I am respectfully saying that I don’t want my child to be *required* to have to take P.E in high school. I think that it should be a choice– if you feel that your child could benefit than that is wonderful for your child but perhaps mine is already taking a sport before or after school and does not need another physical slot added to their school day.

18 Kate January 31, 2014 at 7:19 PM

In the past many district middle schoolers have applied to private schools. We saw a downturn when the economy took a nosedive, so now that things are looking up, I’m sure an upswing was totally expected. I can’t imagine the numbers being “jaw-dropping,” unless you actually have figures to share (half of the students? a third? a quarter?). I don’t think there’s anything sinister about the school selling itself – isn’t that what it should be doing on a curriculum night? If you take a look through the Program of Studies, which is readily available on the Algonquin website & in hardcopy, you can get a good look at all of the courses available in the school, along with a chart noting when they’re usually taken. And there’s flexibility. For example, one of my sons doubled up on Math in freshman year, making space by dropping language, and then took two years of Latin to satisfy most college requirements.

I totally understand that you don’t want your child being required to take phys ed, but since it appears to be a legal requirement in public schools, I’m not sure how easy it would be to opt out. I’m sure private schools have a lot more flexibility.

19 Beth T. January 31, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Just some food for thought – am I am not sure if this is up for debate – but couldn’t Physical Eduction be offered as an elective in the upper grades? I grew south of here, and PE was mandatory in 9th and 10th grade, but after that if you were in a school sponsored sport, you could choose something else.

in defense of Athletic Director’s everywhere – if you want a quality program you need to give the AD time to go her/his job well. Not just parcel out the day. If they are teaching AND being an AD then anytime dedicated to prepping for the teaching piece is spent being an AD. You need to be able to have time to do a quality job. There is more to being an AD than just scheduling.

20 Kate January 31, 2014 at 6:52 PM

Beth: here’s what Mass General Law states:

Section 3. Physical education shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students in the public schools for the purpose of promoting the physical well-being of such students. Instruction in physical education may include calisthenics, gymnastics and military drill; but no pupil shall be required to take part in any military exercise if his parent or guardian is of any religious denomination conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, or is himself so opposed, and the school committee is so notified in writing; and no pupil shall be required to take part in physical education exercises if a licensed physician certifies in writing that in his opinion such physical education exercises would be injurious to the pupil.

21 just wondering January 31, 2014 at 2:44 PM

Does Algonquin offer an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma?

22 resident February 1, 2014 at 9:08 AM

The principal is so out of touch with reality. He thinks spend, spend, spend and nobody is smart enough to stop him. When they instituted the activity fee is was supposed to be temporary. Now it seems that they are taking so much more of our money that they can start hiring and wasting it. How about when the superintendent goes so does the principal in charge at the high school. He has no grip on reality and picks and chooses who is held responsible to pay what at up there. You can be in the musical play or in the band & not pay an activity fee but you can’t play a sport in the winter or spring or go to prom if you haven’t. I guess we are a pick & choose basis….his pick. We need somebody more responsible at the helm up there who can stop the spending and use our money wisely.

23 beth February 5, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Tom Mead will address this issue at the APTO meeting this Thursday at 7:00 pm.

For more details, see: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2014/02/05/algonquin-principal-will-address-concerns-about-curriculum-changes-thursday-feb-6/

24 Eileen Cozzolino February 5, 2014 at 9:48 PM

The APTO meeting will be held in the Library on Thursday evening. The agenda for the meeting is as follows: launch of the new APTO website (designed by ARHS students); initial presentation from the School Start Time Committee; and then Mr. Mead will address the proposed curriculum changes. All parents are welcome to attend any of our monthly APTO meetings.
Eileen Cozzolino & Nancy Shatz
APTO Co-Chairs

25 Lynn February 5, 2014 at 8:59 PM

Communication sent to Mr. Mead re: this issue.

We’re very concerned about the new mandate requiring all students to take Health and Fitness each year of high school. As we understand it, this is a state requirement that until recently Algonquin has not adhered to, and question why it’s being implemented now across all grades.
Based on the course description it appears that the Health and Fitness Grade 12 coursework will be repetitive to content that has already been covered in previous years:
CPR and First Aid (covered in Project Adventure)
Emotional Health (covered in Sophomore Health)
Physical Health (emphasized in sports programs, and also covered in Freshman and Sophomore Physical Education classes
Occupations in the Health and Fitness fields (covered in Science classes, and through other course options).
There are many students in the Class of 2015 who have diligently planned out their schedules to ensure they maximize content structured for their academic and personal interests, and post-graduate goals. By suddenly requiring that they take one term of Physical Education, you are eliminating options for full year courses like Biotech, Physiology, AP Psychology, Music, etc. as students will be left with three terms vs. four terms to choose courses for. What types of courses are going to be offered for a half semester?!
Algonquin is a community that offers many sports options, and we believe that the majority of students take advantage of these opportunities. We question why, with limited budgets, you believe it’s a good investment to hire another Physical Education teacher.
We respectfully request that this decision be re-evaluated. At a minimum, please consider implementing it with the incoming class of 2018 who are just beginning to plan their schedules, and do not interfere with current students, many of whom have worked with their guidance counselors to ensure they maximize their studies at Algonquin. Or make it optional for current students.

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