HPISD: Small Steps Underway on Book Review

Last night’s HPISD school board meeting was back at its regular, MIS location, but parents and community members poured in just the same. Clipping along through the agenda, trustees moved up their discussion of the EFA (LOCAL) instructional resources — a.k.a. the next chapter in the controversial-book saga. 

After a quick brief from Thompson and Knight partner Bill Banowsky, HPHS principal Walter Kelly provided an update. Here’s the gist:

  1. Course overviews for all English classes are now posted online and are “frozen” — meaning that the six-week timelines for the school year are set and public, though teachers can make “pacing” changes. This was to dispel talk that the district had not been transparent enough about syllabi, etc. Of all the books that were previously suspended on a temporary basis, only The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein remains under review by a “reconsideration committee.”
  2. A slideshow broke down which books are required and which are available for selection for each class. That material isn’t online yet, but officials said it would be made available publicly — we’ll post it once it goes live here.
  3. School officials have gone through the approved list of roughly 236 titles, categorized them based on assignment, and identified which major literary books are in use this year. Of that full list, about 70 are in use this school year in some capacity (whether required or available for choice within a selection).
  4. Specific to AP English IV, the teacher-generated, categorized list of works (for “further reading” assignments in any given unit — not the required texts or those from a small selection) has been removed and replaced by a College Board-inspired book list. Again, that action is not for all the English classes — only AP English IV.
  5. Officials have also revised review committee guidelines and committee questionnaires to make sure procedures are clear.

“We’re moving forward,” trustee Joe Taylor said. “It’s a collaborative effort of administrators.”

Kelly emphasized the importance of being what he called “ruthless with ideas but careful with people” — that is, he calls on members of the community to think about the task at hand with scrutiny, but remember to be polite to those with differing viewpoints.

Superintendent Dawson Orr then clarified some procedural policies regarding state-mandated duties of the superintendent and the board.

Board president Leslie Melson expressed her desire to see some “short-term repair” by the December meeting, and the board officially charged Orr with the task of reviewing and making recommendations on revising the EFA (LOCAL) policy.

After all that, roughly a dozen speakers then continued to voice their concerns — on both sides of the argument.

“I applaud trying to tweak the system, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” Highland Park resident David Genender said. “You can’t please everyone all the time.”

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