Below is the Warrior Weekly‘s full interview with Dr. McGrath regarding her decision to support a second semester of freshman English and no longer require Environmental Science as of fall 2012.

Why was the Environmental Science course cut? Why is a new English course being added?

For some time, there has been a growing concern about the lack of continuity in English instruction at Andover High, particularly during the freshman and sophomore years when the development of writing is a critical foundational skill.  The data, compiled last summer by Ms. Whalen and a data team comprising high school HS English teachers, are quite clear that our high school students’ writing progress has been declining between 8th and 10th grades and it is not on a par with those of students in comparable districts. One of the major reasons for this is the gap in instruction that occurs within the English curriculum as a result of our current scheduling where students take one course in English and two courses in science during their freshmen year. In response to this, Ms. Whalen submitted a proposal to her fellow program advisors, Dr. Sharkey, Assistant Superintendent Duclos and me for our consideration.

The addition of a writing/composition course will result in a full year of English instruction for ninth-graders. Beginning in September 2012, all ninth-graders will take one semester devoted to composition and writing and the other semester will be devoted to the study of literature. In order to accomplish this, the ninth-grade Physical Science course will be retained, but the second ninth-grade Environmental Science class will be converted to an elective.

How will the new English course be structured? What will the curriculum be like? 

Last March, Ms. Whalen and members of the English Department submitted a proposal for a composition course to Dr. Sharkey, Assistant Superintendent Duclos and me. In the proposal, Ms. Whalen recommended that “the class [focus on] instruction in expository and informational writing, vocabulary development, and skills work in usage and mechanics with an emphasis on 21st century skills.  There will be a unit on web-based research, writing, and communication.  Students will learn and regularly practice revision and editing strategies. Usage and mechanics areas to be covered include subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent agreement, parallel structure, the use of modifiers, and punctuation.  Students may be heterogeneously grouped, and the course may be scheduled for either first or second semester. A full year of instruction in ELA will provide all students with the foundation they need for further study in this content area and throughout their high school program.”

 The course will be developed this summer and implemented in September 2012.

How will the curriculum change affect the hiring of teachers next year? Will any science teachers lose their jobs? Will any new English teachers be hired?

Sadly, this programmatic change will negatively impact three teachers from the science department. To implement the ninth-grade writing course, we will need to hire additional teachers of English.

Are all the changes going into effect next year?

Yes – in September 2012.

Who made the decision to change the curriculum? How was the decision made?

In this case, discussions regarding the need for a composition class for ninth-graders have been a topic of discussion at the high school for quite some time amongst teachers in the English department, program advisors, principal, assistant superintendent, school committee, parents, the school council, and me. In the past year, we began to study the trends regarding student achievement in writing which are declining.  In March 2012, Ms. Whalen submitted a proposal for a ninth-grade composition course. Ms. Whalen, Mr. Sanborn, Dr. Sharkey, Ms. Duclos and I discussed the course and its impact on the environmental science program.  As superintendent, I must approve all changes to the curriculum and I approved the ninth-grade writing course.

Is there anything else you feel our readers should know on this subject?

It is important to note that this change is in no way related to the school budget or to any funding issues; rather, it is a programmatic decision developed in direct response to the overall needs of our students. In my role as superintendent, it is my responsibility to continually review our programs to ensure they address our students’ needs and to act in their best interest.