This week the Northshore School District Board of Directors, by a 3-2 margin, voted to keep its “Challenge Program” intact. The popular program allows middle school students to enroll in advanced, honors-type courses in Math, Social Studies, Science or English to help better prepare them for high school and beyond.
The grassroots parent advocacy group “Save Our Challenge Program” spent countless hours on the ground organizing support to keep the program open. The School Board vote this week marks a big victory for the parent group, particularly given that the District-appointed task force had earlier recommended ending the program and replacing it with classes that focused more on individualized instruction, but weren’t consistently honors-level.
At EEN we’ve been closely following the parent advocacy efforts around the Challenge Program. We asked Nancy Chamberlain, one of the leaders of the movement, to share her thoughts on the School Board’s vote.
How do you feel about the School Board’s final decision and vote?
Personally, I am gratified that the School Board Directors took such a deep interest in this issue. All of them were engaged and kept asking questions. Even though the decision was not unanimous, I know that the two directors who voted for the other option did so because they truly believe that all kids should receive rigorous curriculum. We agree, but feel that for this to be realistic in the future, our students who are below standards (30 percent of all middle school-aged kids, and nearly 60 percent of free-and-reduced lunch-qualifying children) will need targeted supports in both elementary and middle school. We stand ready to support Northshore School District in this effort.
Why is their decision important to families in Northshore?
The self-select Challenge Program has served thousands of students since its inception in 2010. There is evidence that those students pass the state tests at higher rates, choose more rigorous high school courses and get better grades in them. More of our students are considered career and college ready. More of our underrepresented groups are choosing the advanced math track and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate program courses since 2010. There is a lot of evidence that this program is meeting the metrics the School Board set for it. There is still work to do, though. We can encourage even more of the underrepresented groups, particularly our free-and-reduced lunch and Hispanic students who are at or above standard, to enroll in Challenge classes.
What lessons did you learn from the entire process?
This advocacy effort was HUGE, in scope and in the time commitment. It could not have been accomplished without the dedication of a small core group of advocates who dedicated hundreds of hours of time to research studies and School Board policies, wrote an 88-page report, and engaged in one-on-one advocacy with community members and School Board Directors. The biggest factor, however, was that we were able to inform thousands of parents, students, and community members through social media. We posted our testimonies, recaps and videos of every Task Force and Board meeting to our website and to several Facebook groups. We talked to the media. Students got involved and surveyed their peers. It was really a community effort to save the self-select Challenge Program.
Final thoughts – math
The school board’s vote did not address or include math course selection. It is still unclear what the advanced math path in middle schools will be, or whether it will be accessed by student choice or by some criteria decided by the school district. We will remain vigilant. Advocacy never ends.
Nancy Chamberlain is a former Northshore School District teacher and parent of two children, one of whom went through the Challenge Program; the other currently is in the Hi-Cap (gifted) program.
Read EEN’s coverage of the parent-led movement in Northshore to keep honors course options open for middle school students.