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District teaming up with Syracuse to offer courses
Friday, March 18, 2011
Last updated: Friday March 18, 2011, 1:27 AM
Glen Rock Gazette

The Glen Rock school district has received final approval from Syracuse University to offer jointly developed college level calculus and forensics courses at the high school next year.

The Syracuse courses will be added to the chemistry and psychology sections presently offered in conjunction with Bergen Community College (BCC), as the district builds further on its cooperative offerings – and its expanding involvement with colleges and universities. Parents are responsible for the tuition charge for the courses.

Called "concurrent" or "dual-enrollment" courses – separate and distinct from the Advanced Placement (AP) course stream – the offerings literally mirror those offered as freshman classes at the respective institutions, said Dr. Kathleen Regan, district director of curriculum and instruction, who received the news about the go-ahead from Syracuse last weekend.

To ensure compliance, course syllabuses, teaching methodology and texts and other resource materials are created in a collaboration between the colleges and appropriate Glen Rock faculty and administrators – with primary influence coming from the teachers themselves, the "real experts," said Regan.

Accordingly, local faculty aspiring to teach the courses must hold at least a related master's degree; and are closely vetted by the university involved. In fact, to be approved they must be qualified to be adjunct professors at those schools.

Next on the district's dual-enrollment agenda is Fairleigh Dickenson University (FDU), Regan said. The district plans to develop FDU-concurrent courses in the fine and performing arts and English/writing, with preliminary groundwork beginning in April. And a U.S. history course may also be on the drawing board.

Regan said that what makes the program exciting for parents as well as for students and teachers is the monetary value proposition that accompanies the rewarding level and structure of the course work.

"Right now, parents would pay $300 each in tuition for the Syracuse University calculus and forensics courses and around $210 for the BCC chemistry and psychology courses," said Regan. "So for a little more than $1,000, they receive not only college-level instruction but about a semester-and-a-half worth of credits. It doesn't take much to see what kind of value that is in this day and age of college tuitions," she said.

As for acceptance of credits, Regan said that credits earned by Glen Rock students in the Syracuse courses would be accepted by 92 percent of U.S. colleges, more so than most AP credits, according to a university official.

The dual-enrollment program's initial emphasis of math and sciences correlates to the district's established commitment to "STEM" – science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies.

"In preparing for the new wing over the past few years, we knew we were aiming toward this, and with good reason," Regan said. While current state requirements require three years of math and science for graduation, she believes the burgeoning outcry over American academic achievement in those areas will bring changes. "I would almost guarantee that we will see those three-year requirements extended to four in this state within the next few years."

But if engaged in a brand of international catch-up, Regan said the district is not tackling those disciplines in tunnel-vision. Course development has been interdisciplinary and will remain so, both within and among academic subject areas.

"For example, within STEM, our engineering course obviously includes a lot of math and physics, to the point where our physics teacher often floats into the engineering class and contributes his own 'co-teaching.' Likewise, now that STEM is well under way, the framework exists to build further outward.

"So we were looking to bring in such courses as forensics and psychology, and later expand it with a law/policy cluster – almost forming a mini-academy – and that would tie in intensive writing enrichment from the English discipline, policy practicum from the social studies area and so forth," she said.

What begins to emerge not only links Glen Rock to university-level structure and substance, but also the more comprehensive array of knowledge and skills increasingly required in the professional world.

And that brings up another reason why all hands, notably district teachers, are so "energized" by the expansion of the dual-enrollment initiative.

"Unlike the AP courses, these sections are not taught to any standardized measure or specific test," said Regan. Thus students learn, and use and develop skills, that increasingly come into play in college and beyond – individual and group research, extensive written and oral communication, multiple presentations and the like.

"It's more the classwork and assignment structure of a top-tier university or elite small college – say a Patriot League school – as compared with the rapid-learning, memorization aspect of AP classes that are by necessity geared to performance on the standardized test," she said.

"So this is also a great option for students who are very capable and hardworking, but may not be good standardized 'test-takers,' to get college level work and credits without facing a standardized test hurdle," she said.

Moreover, the dual-enrollment courses are open to college prep students who may not qualify for AP courses – and in some cases even for honors. "The forensics course, while obviously challenging, is not designated as an honors course even though providing college credits," she said.

Regan hastened to note that these factors do not auger the future disappearance of the AP program.

"In terms of our offerings, and the recommendations of our guidance counselors and faculty members, this will require a delicate balance," Regan said. "But there will always be an important place for AP, because so many colleges will continue to use AP scores as a comparative basis for student selection.

"This gives them control over certain variables, since test scores are achieved on a standardized playing field, and AP courses are dictated by them, and not impacted by any local collaboration. Since it takes the influence of the local high school out of the picture, it serves as one more qualifier beyond grade point average and SAT scores," she said.

As for the immediate future, Regan and company are looking forward to the first steps with FDU next month; and beyond that to a number of other colleges and universities who may be interested in a dual enrollment/concurrent relationship with Glen Rock.

"I originally expected to have four dual enrollment courses going in four years. But in year three we'll have four courses, and by year four we'll have six, so we've already exceed the original timetable, and that's really fantastic," she said.

Relative to other independent area systems, Regan said Glen Rock is already positioned well, but not as well as regionals such as Pascack Valley.

"They're out in front since they are able to focus on 9-12 development, unlike Glen Rock where we have more on our plate," said Regan. "But if we have U.S. history, studio art and English ready to go for 2012-13, we'll be closing the gap."

Last Updated: 3/22/11
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