Wilkinsburg School District offers new honors classes for students

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Last week, Wilkinsburg School District was facing yet another school year with no honors courses available, due to a lack of student interest.

As of Tuesday night's legislative school board meeting, the district met enrollment requirements for two new honors courses, the first to be offered by the district under a revamped curriculum for the newly merged middle and high school.

The courses, honors world and American cultures, met the district minimum of five enrolled students. Several students have also expressed interest in honors chemistry, calculus and biology, acting superintendent Dan Matsook said, and the district hopes to meet the enrollment requirement for those classes as well by the first day of school.

"When we met last week, enrollment was at zero for those honors courses," board president Ed Donovan said. "Our counselors really stepped in and brought those students in."

Students were sent updated course listings for honors and electives several weeks ago, asking they respond with classes they were interested in taking. When district staff returned last week, only a third of students had responded, and few with an interest in enrolling in AP or honors courses. Counselors then began calling students at home and informing them of updated course offerings.

The students who haven't updated their schedules will have the opportunity to do so on Sept. 2, the first day of school, Mr. Matsook said.

"For him to get the classes up and running and honors classes filled in this short of a period of time, in a district that already has a few other challenges to deal with is truly remarkable," Mr. Donovan said.

Previously, the district offered no upper level science, math, English or foreign language classes for students. Former substitute superintendent Donna Micheaux introduced upon appointment the idea of restructuring the curriculum to add more rigorous academic options for students, including courses in robotics, animatronics and a career and technology seminar.

Mr. Matsook took over the curriculum planning after Ms. Micheaux was abruptly hired by Pittsburgh public schools as deputy superintendent.

Administrators also voted on implementing an updated cell phone policy that would ban students from bringing phones to school. Phones brought to school will be confiscated "at the door," Mr. Donovan said, and returned to students at the end of the day.

Board member Karen Payne dissented in the vote, citing concern over the district's liability for protecting students' phones throughout the day.

The district is also approaching the first day of school with nine staff vacancies, including an assistant principal for the merged middle and high school.

Board member Cheryl Pierce also resigned at Tuesday's meeting, citing plans to leave the district after selling her district home. The board is looking to fill her position within the next 30 days, Mr. Donovan said.

"The train is out of the station, so to speak," Mr. Matsook said of the quickly approaching school year. "We're on our way. The principals communicated to me a new feeling in the buildings, a good feeling."

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