Not all in D86 get with the program

Creating a first-ever united program of studies for Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools last week instead became yet another faultline for a chronically disunited school board.

By a 4-3 vote at their Oct. 27 meeting, the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board members adopted the 2023-24 program of studies, the culmination of a lengthy effort to align the two schools’ academic offerings. The district historically has had separate course lists for the campuses, resulting in greater selection for students at the much larger Central. Criticism over the discrepancy from community members compelled officials to close the gap.

“This has been an incredible feat that has been long needed in this organization,” board member Cynthia Hanson said.

Hanson and her colleagues, however, were unable to resolve lingering schisms in several subject areas. Board member Debbie Levinthal underscored her concerns about the district’s new yearlong honors algebra and geometry class for freshmen who showed aptitude as eighth-graders.

“I think the narrative that a kid’s math destiny is decided in third or fifth grade is not an accurate statement for many of our feeder districts,” Levinthal said of the use of MAP testing data. “I remain concerned about the amount of content that’s going to be in this course at an honors level.”

Levinthal also voiced concern with the elimination of honors world history and sophomore AP European history, citing the district’s strong record of performance on the AP European history exam.

“I’m unclear why that course is being moved to just a senior elective,” she said. “We’re really eliminating most of our history courses, which I see great value in.”

Board member Peggy James expressed her reservations for implementing earned honors credit in English courses in lieu of offering straight honors classes for juniors and seniors not pursuing advanced placement.

“That really doesn’t allow for that cohort of students that are honors-levels students (and don’t) necessarily want to take AP-level courses for both junior and senior year,” James said.

Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, said earned honors affords students opportunities to elevate their studies without the district having to add classes and instructors.

“We are suggesting a solution to a problem of offering rigor to those that don’t have it in courses that do not exist and will not without adding a level,” Covino said. “We are adding to courses for no cost so that students have a different experience inside some of our core classes where they still can choose to go to an AP class.

“I think we have to get away from the notion that we don’t have honors options,” he added. “We’re not taking away any opportunities here. We are only extending them.”

Hanson took issue with her colleagues advocating fiscal discipline but then calling for more offerings at greater expense.

Levinthal, James and Jeff Waters cast the dissenting votes. Board president Erik Held praised the program’s passage as response to public desire.

“I look forward to it running beautifully in the years ahead — worked on, expanded as things ebb and flow — but it is an incredible accomplishment to have this,” Held said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean