Reacting to concerns many parents have expressed for years, the Riverside Brookfield High School administration has proposed creating honors-level English classes for upperclassmen at RB.

For more than 10 years RB has offered only Advanced Placement or regular classes in English to RB juniors and seniors.

Many students and parents have complained about this, saying students should have an opportunity to take a challenging class that is not quite so rigorous or time consuming as an AP class.

RB officials unveiled their proposal at a Nov. 8 meeting of the Patrons Council, an RB parents group, and to the District 208 school board meeting a day later. Roughly twice the usual number of parents came to the November meeting of the Patrons Council to hear Tim Scanlon, assistant principal of curriculum and instruction, outline the proposal.

Parents seem happy with the recommendation.

“There has been a need for this for some time because the students had a chance to do honors classes freshman or sophomore year and then junior year they didn’t have an option to do honors anymore; it either had to be AP or regular,” said Rosemary Santoro, co-president of the Patrons Council. “There was a broad gap. Students wanted to be challenged but not necessarily to load themselves down with all AP classes, so it’s really good that there’s a middle option.”

The English Department proposal will probably be voted on at the December school board meeting, where it appears likely to be approved.

A committee of four RB English teachers, longtime department Chair George Miller, and Scanlon developed the proposal. Key elements include making the current regular level American Studies course for juniors an honors-level course, creating a new honors Latin American Literature course and making the popular senior-level Shakespeare Seminar taught by Tom Fuller an honors class instead of a regular course. The proposal also calls for flipping the department’s two AP courses.

AP English Literature is currently a class taken by seniors, but if the proposal is adopted, it will become a class for juniors. AP English Language and Composition, currently taken by juniors, would become the senior level AP English class. If the proposal is adopted, next year’s upperclassmen would have the choice of taking either of the two AP English classes.

“I think it’s really going to help to switch the two AP offerings within the English Department so the one that is far more difficult is in senior year, not in junior year because a lot of kids just were not ready,” said RB Principal Pamela Bylsma. “They needed an extra year to develop their skills.”

AP English Literature’s emphasis on literary analysis should be an easier transition for students coming from Honors English 10, according to a document outlining the proposal, which also indicates that the financial and staffing impact of the proposed changes would be minimal since students are required to take four years of English to graduate from RB.

Dist. 208 board President Jim Marciniak was happy to finally receive a concrete proposal, noting it has long been an issue of concern.

“English was a particular sore point,” Marciniak said. “Not only did they create some honors options for juniors and seniors, they pretty much rewrote the road map for how a student progresses through the four years at RB in the English Department, which is cool. They did some serious thinking about it and took some looks at some other schools and how they do it and the logical sequence of how you address the literature and language and composition aspects, and then they made some serious changes. I was pleased to see that amount of effort and study went into this.”

RB’s Leadership Council has recently completed a year-long study of honors and accelerated programs at RB. It drafted an Honors Criteria meant to standardize the expectations for honors classes at RB.

“I’m glad we decided to codify what an honors course means and to actually hold up our honors course offerings for scrutiny against that standard. I think it will help everybody have a better understanding of what we’re trying to do with various challenge levels of courses at RB,” Marciniak said.

Under previous Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann, honors classes for upperclassmen had become virtually non-existent, replaced by AP classes which have become increasingly popular at RB and nationwide.

Some parents would like to bring back honors classes for juniors and seniors in more than just the English Department.

“People have been pretty pleased, but I’ve also heard a lot of feedback saying we wish they could do something now for the science and the math courses,” Santoro said.

But Bylsma said that in other departments, students have more choices in AP classes than in English.

“That was the area where we didn’t have many pathways for students,” Bylsma said. “There were fewer options and choices. In the social sciences, they have more AP offerings. There are just two in English.”