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Lodi Unified School District high schools will teach mixed-level social studies

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Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:00 am, Wed Feb 8, 2012.

Discussion over the future of social studies courses in Lodi Unified School District high schools grew heated during a board meeting Tuesday night.

Trustee Bonnie Cassel proposed that general social studies courses be integrated with college prep social studies courses in an effort to boost the achievement of the general ed students. While all students would receive the same lesson, they would be graded on a different scale. There would be no need to publicly identify which students were not working at the college prep level.

Because everyone would be in the same course, the idea that a general class is a dumping ground of problem students could be alleviated, said Cassel. Mixing levels could also help to make class sizes more flexible. Should a student's achievement pick up during the school year, they could remain in the same class and simply move to the higher grading scale.

Jacki Heinrich is a world history teacher at Lodi High School who said she is used to tailoring lessons to varying levels in a given class. One technique is to set up the higher level students to mentor the others.

"Sometimes they get a lot farther than we do," she said at the meeting.

This move was prompted by the board's direction in November that high school courses be more flexible to all levels of students, and that placement choices would be made collectively by the student, his or her parents, teachers and counselors.

Trustee George Neely felt it would be better to keep the different levels in different classes.

"Forget about kids spending the year together and not knowing who is college prep and who is not. That's not going to happen," he said. If schools need more teachers to manage large class sizes, they can approach the board, he said.

Cassel defended her proposal, saying that social studies is a unique subject in which students thrive by responding to enthusiastic role models.

"Mr. Neely, in all respect for you, unless you taught those dumping ground social studies classes, you don't know what happens," said Cassel, who has taught social studies in high school.

Neely is "naive" to think that the board could provide more staffing to serve larger classes, said Cassel.

The district curriculum committee was frustrated to not have been consulted in the plan to alter social studies courses. Normally, an idea would come from a teacher to the committee and then to the board.

Lodi High School Principal Bob Lofstead offered his campus as a potential site to pilot the mixed-level social studies courses. But in the end, the board voted to assign the mixed-level classes across the board at all Lodi Unified high schools on a one-year basis. Neely and board president Ron Heberle voted no, and trustee Joe Nava abstained.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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