Board addresses future of forensics program at Carbon
Problems with the debate program have been brewing for years and the decision whether to close the forensics program at Carbon High at the end of the school year remains under discussion.
"It seems as though we have been made out to be the reason that the debate program at Carbon can't go on," explained high school principal Robert Cox to a room full of people in attendance at the last board of education meeting.
"In the past eight years, we have had four forensics teachers. We have tried to limp along and make the program work for the last four or five years. I would love to have our program going strong. But the fact is people are not knocking down our doors to be our debate coach. It has nothing to do with money, but we can't keep the program running the way it is, either," continued Cox.
The principal's remarks came after nearly 45 minutes of comments from former CHS forensics students, former teachers and supporters of the high school retaining the program.
The group included Carbon graduates who had participated in the forensics program at the high school.
In one of the presentations, Renae Banasky said many of the supporters understand the position of the school. The program isn't what it once was, but the supporters believe there should be a way to keep and, in fact, expand it.
"Ninety-eight high schools in the state have competitive speech and debate programs and many programs that have been reenergized or started," noted Banasky. "There are also many tournaments for students to attend. In fact, there are typically three tournaments each weekend with 200 to 500 students at each."
In a handout, Banasky pointed out that some school districts are beginning to have forensics programs at the junior high, middle school and elementary levels as well. She also gave examples of high schools where the number of economically disadvantaged students were much higher than at Carbon and yet their programs are successful.
Former debater Tristy Atwood indicated that she had surveyed 132 Mont Harmon students the day before and 81 said they would like to participate in a forensics program at the high school.
"I know what an impact participating in debate made in my life and career," commented Atwood. "I can't even believe we are considering this."
Addressing the board. attorney Joane Pappas White pointed out that most of what she learned in high school and college is now obsolete. What is really important for schools to teach is for students to "learn how to learn" and a forensics program helps youth to do that, added the local attorney.
College of Eastern Utah journalism professor and Susan Polster, the adviser for The Eagle, College of Eastern Utah's student newspaper, and a professor of journalism at the school Susan said that as she reviewed a list of the best writers, ones whos works helped the paper win awards, were largely those that have debate backgrounds.
"It is important to keep this program, and I know that the college is trying hard to bring back the program at our school as well," she said.
Former CEU forensics instructor Neil Warren also spoke and pleaded with the school district to "not make the same blunder the college did" by discontinuing the program.
"What needs to happen is for the district to bring in a coach who is committed to the program," he said. "We need someone who is qualified and someone who is enthusiastic about the program."
The board and the administration had also received numerous letters and emails concerning the situation, all of them in support of keeping the program.
Cox pointed out that he and others at the school would like the program to continue, but that the problem has not only been with keeping a qualified teacher who will lead he program, but also by having students who are committed as well.
"This past year 32 students began the program, 22 finished the year, but of those only 12 were academically eligible to participate at state," he stated. "Eleven of those students qualified for state, but only four chose to go. The state does not allow us to give a fine arts credit for forensics classes anymore, so that is another problem. We are willing to look at any suggestion that will allow us to continue the program at a quality level."
After those comments, Grady McEvoy pointed out that the decision to either keep or eliminate the forensics program at Carbon lie with the administration and that the board would not take any action one way or the other. However, universally the board said they appreciated the support from the community to keep the program and they themselves would like to see it continue.
Superintendent David Armstrong pointed out that Cox's statement about money was accurate. He said that debate is actually the most expensive program for the district at the school.
"We give $7000 a year to all the atheletic programs for operation, while we give the forensics program $5000 a year," he said.
A suggestion was made that a committee of interested parties be formed to help find a solution to the problem, and that committee will meet this week. It was pointed out that a solution to the problem will need to be found quickly because students are already signing up for their schedules next year.
In another area of concern it was also brought up at the meeting that the district had decided to do away with classes in theater arts at Mont Harmon Junior High. The present teacher of those classes also teaches language arts and she has been asked to stay on at a half time contract to teach only those classes.
"We are not eliminating theater entirely, it will still be a extra curricular activity,' said Armstrong. "But our reasons for doing away with the theater classes is that the school never puts on its own plays or productions. They do them in conjunction with the community theater, but they don't do their own independent productions. A production should be the result of such a class be taught."
In another matter the superintendent pointed out that this is the first year that the Utah Basic Scholastic Compentency Tests take affect for graduating seniors. He said that out of a class of 265 seniors, only 27 students had failed to pass all the tests, and most of those were students who were in the special education program.
"However, that doesn't make us satisfied by any means," he later said. "We will continue to keep working so that all students get a full diploma upon graduation."
In a related issue the district also had plans to move principals around next year. Todd Lauritsen, presently the principal at Mont Harmon will become an assistant principal at Carbon High. Melissa Hamilton will leave the high school and become the principal at Petersen Elementary next year. Kerry Jensen, the principal at Wellington Elementary will be leaving that position to the the principal at Mont Harmon. Gregg Maughn, the assistant principal at Mont Harmon will be the new principal at Wellington. Finally Carol Wells, who just this last year moved from the now closed East Carbon High to be principal at Petersen will be moving to Mont Harmon as an assistant principal.
"We are doing this because it is a good idea to get new blood and new ideas into different schools," stated the superintendent. "Many larger districts have a plan in which few principals stay at their positions for more than five years. They turn 20 percent of them over each year and give them different assignments. We think it is good for the entire district to do this."
He pointed out that if principals stay in one job at one level, they often don't get the experience they need to take other district administration jobs when they want to apply for them.
He also said that the changes weren't limited to principals. In many of the schools teachers are changing grade levels this year and some are even moving from one school to another.