By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND -- Some North Middlesex Regional School District Committee members expressed concern during a meeting Monday night about a proposed change in graduation requirements for high-school students, saying the new choices may work against them in the long run.
According to material handed out by Principal Christine Battye, because North Middlesex Regional High School is a Race to the Top school, the administration is required to implement at least the MassCore Massachusetts High School program of studies.
That includes four units of English, four units of math, three units of a lab-based science, three units of history, two units of the same foreign language, one unit of an arts program, and five additional core courses, which could include health, business and technology.
Currently, the district does not require students to take four years of math.
The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education also recently modified the minimum admissions requirements for the Massachusetts state university and UMass systems, which include requiring one math class per year, three lab-science courses and a minimum of two years of a world language.
Battye's proposal does not include increasing the number of credits a student must achieve to graduate, but instead looks to change how they are reallocated.
She is proposing increased math requirements for the high school, including moving to a full-year integrated math course in grades 9-11, then a selection of semester-length courses for students in grades 12.
Battye is also proposing that students take four full-length science classes, up from three full-length classes, and four full-length social-studies courses, up from two full-length courses.
She is also proposing that students take four half-credit physical-education classes, as well as an increased world-language requirement that would make students take three years of the same language, up from two classes.
Many committee members said they support the changes to the math and science curricula, saying students need to be better prepared in those subjects when they go to college.
But increased standards in world-language and social-studies classes could be a detriment, some said.
Jonna Clermont, a Pepperell representative, said she likes having high expectations for students, but she doesn't want to see kids who may be struggling get discouraged and decide to drop out.
Instead, she said, guidance counselors should work with students to guide them to whatever path they want to pursue after graduation. It's her belief that a one-size-fits-all track isn't always a good idea.
"I commend her for wanting to have high standards," she said of Battye. "I just don't think it's fair to recommend that everyone has to do the same thing. Everyone is an individual, and they really need to focus on that instead."
Other members of the committee, including Ken Brown and Anne Buchholz, who feel more emphasis needs to be placed math, science and technology, said they don't feel a change should be made to world languages and social studies because the district is already meeting the requirements in those areas.
Battye estimated that 70 percent of the student body already meets or exceeds the higher expectations, and an additional 12 percent follows an individualized education plan, or IEP, so the new requirements would not affect them.
As a result of the proposal, Battye said the additional math requirements will force the district to hire more math teachers over the next few years, and at least one full-time foreign-language teacher in the coming years.
A shift in the staffing patterns in the Science Department will cover the increased requirements.
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.