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United School Board approves course changes with Keystone exams in mind

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

United School Board has approved new junior high and senior high curriculum guides that call for some changes in course selections at various grade levels beginning in 2014-15 to better prepare students for the new standardized state Keystone exams.

Patricia Berezansky, United's director of education, noted major changes are planned beginning next year to realign science and social studies courses. Concepts that will be tested in the Keystone biology exam will be introduced in successive grade levels. “You can't do it in one year,” Berezansky noted.

Also, she said, as students prepare for another Keystone exam that will target knowledge of civics and government, there will be a stronger emphasis on modern U.S. history at the junior high level: “We have to get past the Civil War.”

Berezansky noted the planned shifts in science instruction won't require purchase of any new instructional materials. The new curriculum guide calls for offering life sciences in seventh grade and physical sciences in eighth grade.

At the high school level, the current Advanced Placement physics course will be split into a series of two courses. Also, two other courses will be shifted from the science department: Environmental studies will move to the vo-ag department and a course on the human body will move to the physical education department.

In the area of social studies, world history focusing on the Eastern hemisphere will be taught in the seventh grade while U.S. history, civics and government will be the main topics for eighth-graders.

A new alignment of social studies courses is to be phased in gradually at the senior high level, Berezansky said. Initially, U.S. history will be taught in ninth grade and civics and government in 10th grade. International studies will be offered in 11th grade beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Berezansky noted that grammar and literature will be taught throughout the high school grades with juniors focusing on American literature. What had been known as the college preparatory English track will now be offered to all students. “We're going toward all children having that higher standard,” Berezansky said.

High School Principal Michael Worthington discussed the introduction of “extended learning opportunity” (ELO) class periods that will provide extra instructional time for students who need remedial assistance or more in-depth study in various subjects. “It allows us a little more flexible time,” he said.

“It will be customized to different student groups,” Berezansky noted.

In other changes at the high school, a Woodworking 2 course will be offered for advanced students and students who are considering taking driver's education as early as the ninth grade will be urged to wait until a later grade, when they are older. That's because, Berezansky noted, it's recommended that students “take their driver's permit test within six months of this course.”

In the vo-ag department, an agribusiness course will be added while “agricultural mechanics” will be dropped because similar instruction is offered as part of a “small gas engines” course.

United approved a Youth Career Connect program grant application related to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative planned through the Indiana County Technology Center.

United superintendent Barbara Parkins said students, through dual enrollment agreements with Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County Community College, might seek credit toward an associate degree.

Plans are in the beginning stages for developing a central STEM academy at ICTC as well as a Challenger Center that would allow students to hone STEM skills while carrying out simulated space missions.

United approved a Bureau of Career and Technical Education Approved Program Evaluation Correction Plan.

Berezansky told school directors the district was asked to make improvements in six areas related to its vo-ag program.

To address a record-keeping issue, occupational objective forms signed by students will now become part of their permanent record retained in the guidance office.

A new guidance plan will be drafted for vo-ag students, updating a version created in 1984. Also, material safety data sheets regarding chemicals used in the department will be posted in required areas.

And the school board appointed two separate required bodies — an Occupational Advisory Committee and a Local Advisory Committee — to meet twice annually to offer input on United's vo-ag program. Because the district's program is a small one, the same dozen individuals were serve on both committees.

Named to three-year terms on the committees were: Worthington; Janie Short, high school guidance counselor; Roy Duncan, agricultural shop aide; Carole Carney, greenhouse aide; Richard Stumpf, former ag teacher and community member; community members Frank Kwisnek and Dale Bracken; Justin Duncan, Pennsylvania Game Commission representative; and parents Kevin and Marie Boring. Serving one-year terms are United students Alyssa Debnar and Amber Boring, respective president and vice president of the school's FFA chapter.

The school board also accepted the 2012-13 local audit report of district operations prepared by Kotzan, CPA and Associates of Johnstown. The firm's representative, Brenda A. Pawlowski, cautioned the school board regarding the district's spending of federal dollars.

Specifically, she noted United exceeded a 15 percent limit on federal Title 1 funds that may be carried over from one fiscal year to the next. But the district received a two-year waiver from that rule and will not face any fine.

For future years, “You need to make sure those funds are spent.” Pawlowski said.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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