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Science staff seeks more time

March 9, 2011
Kylie Saari — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area Schools is considering requiring its high school students to take an additional full year of science, raising the current requirement from three years to four.

The school board met Tuesday with science department staff, as well as parents and other staff, to consider the change.

Science teachers presented the board with findings after a review of their curriculum and state-mandated standards that go into effect for the class of 2015. They argue that four years of science is necessary to effectively teach all required material. But this set off protests from other departments.

The reason for the contention lies at the Minnesota Department of Education, which says schools can fit all the required materials into three years of instruction. But high school science teacher Brad Johnson has been calling around to other districts and has not found a single one able to accomplish the task. He even talked with the state, which was not able to give him a plan to do so.

"We don't know how in the world we could do it in three years," he said. "No one has been able to show how it could be done."

Including another year of science for students means two fewer semesters of electives - a move that puts language, music and art on the defensive.

"We are having a really hard time now getting all their requirements in," said one parent in reference to his sons, who are interested in science and music.

Band director Kate Kallenbach told the board the science department's request steps on the toes of other departments, especially since the state says the science department should be able to get the teaching done in three years.

A poll of junior and senior high school teachers shows a majority in favor of keeping the science curriculum the same - at three years required.

Response from the school board was mixed.

Sandy Beckendorf was uncomfortable saying the district could not go with a four-year requirement, if that is what is necessary to meet state standards.

Still, "I don't like to see our community and faculty fighting against each other," she said.

Superintendent Joe Brown told the group he is in favor of increasing the science requirement, citing the need for math and science in industries that call Fairmont home.

A better solution, he suggested, is to consider a different way of scheduling classes to allow students to take four years of science and the electives they want.

The board opted to table the matter until it can look more closely at scheduling.



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