Teacher's exit = No dual credit
Parkland required by law to ensure instructor criteria
ST. JOSEPH — More than 60 high school students won't earn the college credits they thought they would when they signed up to take advanced math classes this year at St. Joseph-Ogden.
"We are very frustrated right now," Principal Brian Brooks said.
As is customary, Parkland College had agreed to give SJ-O students enrolled in trigonometry, calculus and statistics dual credit — meaning they'd earn credits simultaneously toward both a high school diploma and a college degree.
The conundrum arose when the SJ-O teacher who was assigned to all three classes — Mike Behrens — informed school administrators he would not be returning to the school in the fall.
That happened the afternoon of Aug. 15, less than a week before the first full day of classes at SJ-O. On Aug. 18, the high school contacted Parkland to ensure the dual credit courses would be honored. The answer was no.
Kristine Young, Parkland's vice president for academic services, said the first step in approving dual credit — for any course, in any district — is to make sure that the high school teacher providing the instruction is appropriately credentialed. Behrens is.
"These are the same credentials they must have to teach on Parkland's campus," she said. "Parkland is required by the Illinois Community College Act and the Dual Credit Quality Act to demonstrate this."
For transfer-level courses like the ones in question at SJ-O, that means the teacher must have either a master's degree in mathematics or a closely related master's with a minimum of 15 to 18 graduate hours in math, Young said.
The second step, also required by the state's Dual Credit Quality Act, is for Parkland to demonstrate that it has worked with the qualified high school instructor and provided orientation, ensuring that students would be graded and taught the same way in high school that they would if taking the course at the community college.
"An important distinction to keep in mind is that these are Parkland courses that SJ-O personnel are teaching," Young said. "This means the courses are governed by Parkland and the Illinois Community College Board and therefore have to meet Parkland and ICCB rules and regulations. It's an additional layer of regulation that I imagine most high school courses do not have to meet and why this may seem a little different to those new to the concept of dual credit."
Brooks said the district was told that instructors must be approved for dual credit courses in the spring of the previous school year.
"Mr. Behrens had all of this in line because at the time, he anticipated being here for the (2014-15) school year," Brooks said. (Behrens, incidentally, left SJ-O for a job at Parkland).
The way the policy was explained to SJ-O administrators, Brooks said, it "goes so far as to say that if an approved dual credit instructor were to get sick during the school year and take a leave of absence, the school district would not be able to replace that instructor with another certified dual credit instructor. The students would just be out of luck in that situation in terms of getting dual credit."
Brooks said the school district understands that rules need to be followed, but was unaware of the policy until it was too late.
"This particular situation is an extenuating circumstance with Mr. Behrens being hired on August 15 by Parkland and our students starting August 19," Brooks said. "We were hoping we could work together to possibly figure out a way to make this work for the students this year, who are the only people that matter in this situation."
Parkland is making an exception for the students in the statistics course. The reason it's able to, Young said, is that it was to be offered as a dual-credit course during the second half of this SJ-O school year, in the spring.
The other two courses, each worth five credit hours, start earlier in the school year.
"We had 114 students enrolled in math dual credit courses to start the year," Brooks said. As of this week, he said, 65 of them won't have the opportunity to earn dual credit this year.
Young said Parkland has dealt with high school teachers resigning before the school year previously, but to her knowledge, they've all happened much earlier in the summer, giving both sides time to do the required credentialing that allowed courses to continue as scheduled.
With Behrens no longer on staff, all three courses at SJ-O will be taught by Lianne Rash, who has been at the school for eight years. A former teacher at Centennial High, she'll use the same syllabus and teach the same lessons that Behrens would have.
Brooks said Rash is certified to teach trigonometry, calculus and statistics. Parkland has said she'll be approved to teach the dual credit classes for the 2015-16 school year.
But because her dual credit paperwork wasn't filed before Aug. 1 — two weeks before Behrens announced he was leaving — only students in her statistics class will earn dual credit this school year. That, Brooks said, has left students, parents and administrators extremely frustrated.
"This situation is really no one's fault, per se, but the bottom line is that those kids are affected by this through no fault of their own," Brooks said. "And as their principal, that is a hard pill to swallow."
Nora Maberry-Daniels is editor of The Leader, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit leaderlandnews.com.