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Board of Trustees votes to eliminate senior project

Alternate graduation requirements suggested
By: Kirsten Read Journal Correspondent
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Senior project will no longer be a Placer Union High School District graduation requirement for the foreseeable future. The district’s Board of Trustees voted to eliminate senior project at its meeting Tuesday night. However, schools can choose to maintain the project or keep aspects of it in their curriculums. After extensive debate and public comment, Trustee Charles Wallgren motioned that the senior project be eliminated as a graduation requirement. Trustee Lynn MacDonald proposed an amendment that required a replacement project by Fall 2013, which received no second vote. The board then voted in favor of eliminating the senior project as a graduation requirement with no one opposing the decision. School officials and community members in attendance expressed hope that staff would create a new graduation requirement to take the place of senior project soon. Jeff Tooker, assistant superintendent for educational services for the district, said he felt teachers in general had been “overwhelmed with the process and underwhelmed with the product ” regarding senior project. “The senior project is not coherent with what else is happening across the curriculum,” Tooker said Tuesday night. “The rhetorical question that I’ve been asking of the last couple of years is ‘can there be something else?’ There needs to be something that will provide students with the chance to say ‘this is what I learned in high school, and this is how I’m going to use it in the future.’” Dave Horsey, district superintendent, stated that most students choose to do something simple. According to Horsey, a senior project should demonstrate that students have the ability to “think through and solve a problem” and “work in multiple disciplines.” Trustee Ron Oates said he thought senior project need not be eliminated, simply replaced. “We understand [the project’s] creativity and its importance,” Oates said. “But there needs to be more mentorship involvement.” Oates feels that some use the opportunity senior project provides, while others don’t, but recognizes the “tremendous amount of talent in this district.” In regard to creating an alternate graduation requirement, Oates said staff needs to be able to focus solely on reworking a replacement program for senior project. “We can’t keep doing PLC (Professional Learning Communities), continuing the current senior project, and constructing a new one in the current environment,” Oates said. About 15 community members attended the meeting and almost all spoke during the public comment portion when the senior project requirement was discussed. Steve Trombetta, longtime Colfax High School math teacher, agreed that PLC time, which involves collaboration among teachers across the district, be used to reinvent the senior project. He was unwilling to see the senior project simply disappear. “It’s part of our school culture and it keeps the students active and engaged until the very end,” Trombetta said. Board trustees agreed that senior project has various forms and expectations across different schools in the district. Rick Brown, retired Colfax High School teacher, suggested a tightening of the requirements so that “senior projects are more similar to reflect what Placer Union High School District wants of its graduates.” He pointed out the need for a “common thread.” “It’s ironic that in an age of standardization we are talking about very different forms of senior project at ach school,” Brown said. “Senior project does not reflect the integration and collaboration of schools as it should.” “There has never been a district input component to it,” added board member Maureen Ward. “It needs to be something we can measure.” While the senior project is being eliminated as a district-wide graduation requirement, it does not mean similar projects cannot exist at high schools within that district. “Schools have the flexibility to continue using various aspects of the senior project,” Oates said. Pam Robie Hart, Placer County Office of Education board member and Auburn native, said Tuesday she didn’t agree with eliminating the senior project requirement. “I wish they would have said in the motion that this is being eliminated specifically as a district requirement,” Hart said. Hart said she feels that “to get rid of [the senior project] as a graduation requirement right now would not be giving [the students] the right message.” Doug Summers, Auburn resident who has had two children graduate from Placer High School with another to enter senior year in the fall, expressed similar wishes to keep senior project. “From a parent standpoint, I think it’s a fantastic program,” said Summers. “To throw the whole senior project away is short-sighted. I understand that it’s a staffing and money issue, but I hate to see it go away, because I don’t think it will come back.”