Popular school course undergoing change
A popular class at Monticello Trails Middle School soon will receive a new format.
The Museum Connections exploratory created and taught by Keil Hileman will be phased out over the next two years.
The phase out will begin in the 2008-09 school year when the class will only be offered to seventh- and eighth-graders. The following year, only eighth-graders may take the class.
Shanna Christopher has an eighth-grader and a seventh-grader enrolled in Hileman's classes, and she said she was surprised by the news that the class would change.
"An e-mail was sent out to the parents saying they were going to start phasing out the Museum Connections program, which is shocking because this is a class that fills out every year," she said.
Starting in the 2010-11 school year, Hileman will travel as the districtwide Museum Connections instructor.
Monticello Trails principal Tobie Waldeck said the class was changing format because there are too many exploratory offerings currently at Monticello Trails.
"Due to the fact that we have too few students in too many of our exploratory classes we needed to balance our enrollment," he said.
Waldeck said he decided to change the Museum Connections course, with the support of district administration, because he felt Hileman, who was the 2004 Kansas Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year, was capable of reaching out to students in other ways.
Hileman was given the option to be a core social studies teacher or to be a traveling Museum Connections teacher, and Waldeck said Hileman chose to travel.
Hileman declined to comment.
Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said as the course is phased out from exploratory offerings at Monticello Trails, Hileman would begin to catalog the museum so there is a clear record of its artifacts.
School board president Janine Gracy said the museum artifacts would be integrated into other classrooms instead of being its own course.
"So a social studies teacher can say 'Oh, I know the museum has this item that I can bring in or I can even have Keil come in to help give a description,'" she said.
Zoellner said it is possible that there will be one museum location or that there may be mini museums in all of the middle schools.
"Again we are very much in the early planning stages of what this will look like," she said. "We just know we want to have an opportunity for more students to be impacted by this wealth of material."
Zoellner said the board was informed of the decision, although its members did not vote on it or discuss it at a meeting as moving staff is an administrative decision.
Gracy said she and other board members supported the change because it would provide continuity throughout the district - something board members have asked for to prevent the east versus west mentality.
"Now kids get to have the experience districtwide instead of just one middle school having the opportunity to get that special class," she said.
Christopher's daughter, eighth-grader Lindsey Christopher, has taken Hileman's Museum Connections class for three years, and although changing its format won't affect her, she was upset.
"His class is probably going to be the most educational that I've ever had," Lindsey said. "He lets us watch movies, there is homework once a week and he had literally a museum with artifacts."
Hileman has collected about 20,000 artifacts for use in his classroom, offering students another way to learn about history.
"Sometimes kids are very visual and like to touch things and feel it and understand it more," Lindsey said. "Some people learn more from that, and that's the way I learn."
Lindsey said she had heard about some students saying they would make a petition to keep the class in its current format, but she said she hadn't seen one yet. She and her seventh-grade brother, Brayson, were thinking about making an online petition.
"That way people can sign up online and then we could make a goal of how many signatures are we going to get," she said. "I know some students in high school and they hate it that he's leaving."
Zoellner said she had heard only one complaint about the format change and that the district would be "moving forward with this decision."
Waldeck said some parents had contacted him and said the format change was unfair for Monticello Trails students.
"I don't see it as negative," he said. "I see it as a positive way to impact kids across the district."
Exploratory class total enrollment for 2007-08
Sixth grade: 106
PE (boys and girls)