Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

De Soto superintendent: Museum class to be expanded

December 3, 2008

When Board President Larry Meyer informed Emily Leonard she was near the end of her allotted time to address the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education in support of a popular class, the seventh-grader improvised a closing argument.

“It’s the best class I ever had. You learn a lot, and I don’t think it should be taken away,” the Monticello Trails Middle School student said.

Leonard was one of nine students, parents or constituents to address the board Monday in support of the museum connection class Keil Hileman teaches at Monticello Trails. About 15 more supporters joined them at the meeting.

Board members and Superintendent Sharon Zoellner expressed admiration at the eloquence and passion of the students in support of the class and said the goal was to expand the class within the district.

Board members agreed with Leonard and other students’ testimony that the large collection of historical items Hileman maintains in his classroom gave students a hands-on experience with history that made learning more exciting and meaningful.

“It’s different than social studies where you are just tested over things from a book,” Leonard said earlier in her statement to the Board. “Mr. Hileman makes you think about it and puts you in the time we’re in (studying). You learn it; you love it.”

In April, it was announced changes were coming to the popular class. At that time, Monticello Trails Principal Tobie Waldeck said he decided to change the course, with the support of district administration, because he felt Hileman was capable of reaching out to students in other ways.

Last spring, Waldeck presented Hileman, who was the 2004 Kansas Teacher of the Year and one of the district’s finalists for National Teacher of the Year, with the option of being a core social studies teacher or a traveling district museum connections teacher. Hileman chose the latter.

The class, which had been an option to all three grades at Montiello Trails, was available only for seventh- and eighth-graders this school year, and it was stated last spring it would be limited to eighth-graders in 2009-2010.

Shawnee resident Vicki Cannon told the Board part of the museum connection’s appeal was the relationships Hileman built with students over three years. That would be lost should the class only be an option for eighth-graders, she said.

“We understand that the museum connections class is one of a kind, but there are many schools that have superior teachers and unique classes that are seen as an asset to that school, not a detriment,” Cannon said. “Our concern is that in changing the way museum connections course is currently being taught, the specialness will be lost.”

In response to the speakers, Zoellner said there was a misunderstanding of the district’s intent toward the class and Hileman.

“There was never any intent to fire Mr. Hileman,” she said. “There is about four or five things we have to clear up before we have everything in place to expand this into other schools.

“We need time.”

Hileman was given time this year to inventory the historical items he has collected for his classroom for insurance proposes and so that gifts to the district can be cataloged per district policy, Zoellner said.

Hileman is also writing a curriculum for the class so that it can be duplicated at other schools, Zoellner said.

Hileman would go forward with both endeavors, and she would update the Board in the spring about how to move forward, Zoellner said. Meanwhile, she invited those interested in the class to call or email her with their concerns.

Board member Bill Fletcher also sought to assure museum connection supporters the class would survive although it might see changes,

“I think you’re still going to have your class,” he said. “I believe that.”

As she left the meeting, Emily’s mother Kris Leonard said she remained concerned. She wanted the class to be offered unchanged to all three Monticello Trails Middle School grades.

“I don’t feel confidant museum connections is safe or intact,” she said. “We believe teachers could be hired at the other middle schools to extend the program without disturbing the current class.”

The questions of whether other teachers would be hired to teach the course at Mill Creek and Lexington Trails middle schools and in what grades it would be made available would be part of her discussions with Hileman to develop a recommendation to the Board, Zoellner said.

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