Holmes to get ‘more rigorous’
Pre-AP, synchronized with Coronado, to start this fall

       In hopes of raising its just-below-excellent performance levels while retaining more of its attendance-area students, Holmes Middle School plans to become a Pre-Advanced Placement school in the coming year.
       “Our goal is not to do well, but to be excellent,” Principal Brenda LeBrasse said in a recent interview. “The staff is in favor of it and the parents are behind it.”
       Teachers will receive “full training” in August and additional information will be sent out to parents, she added.
       Pre-AP is a set of educational strategies and tools by which teachers will “engage students in active high level learning,” a school informational flyer states. The classes are elective; any student can apply to take one or more of them. Acceptance will be based on grades, behavior and teacher recommendations.
       The program will synchronize with the existing AP program at nearby Coronado High School, which Holmes feeds into.
       “We are looking forward to it,” said CHS counselor Jim Keating. “The more our feeder schools do to encourage students to move into challenging environments, the better it makes our school.”
       He noted that West Middle School's Student-Centered Academic Interdisciplinary Lab (SAIL) program - geared for students identified as gifted - also falls into that category.
       At Coronado, AP courses are set up to match introductory-level college offerings. Students who are successful in such free classes can avoid having to pay for them in college. In addition, Keating said, studies have shown that students who have taken AP courses are more likely to get higher grades in college.
       For Holmes, the pre-AP impetus came from a sense of “flatlining” educationally and a concern this has been partly caused by losing high-achieving students to other schools, according to Mike Kreidel, the school's gifted and talented head who will become the pre-AP director.
       In the past, Holmes had often received “excellent” ratings from the Colorado Board of Education's annual accountability reports, but in recent years this has dropped to “high” and stayed there, he said. “Sometimes we've come close, but it's as if we were missing something. We think maybe it's because we're losing the high-achieving kids, and if we bring them back, we can get to the next level.”
       In 2003-04, more than 90 students who would have gone to Holmes permitted in to other schools, school records show. The majority of these go to District 20's Eagleview, District 14's Manitou, and, in District 11, North (IB) or West (SAIL). Of these, only Eagleview got an “excellent” rating for the 2003-04 school year.
       Exact numbers for the 2004-05 school year were not available, but according to Kreidel, Holmes' loss numbers are lower this year.
       LeBrasse noted that her goal at any time is to retain her school's students, not to attract those from other schools or districts. Of Holmes' roughly 740 students, 150 are already on permit from other schools, in or out of the district, school records state.
       According to LeBrasse, the pre-AP decision followed extensive research and discussion. Last year, the school was looking hard at starting an all-school International Baccalaureate (IB) program, but was unable to attract District 11 support for it. Another issue was that Palmer High School, for which Holmes is not a feeder school, has the district's only IB program for grades 9-12.
       Now, she said, “We believe in the long run that this (pre-AP) will be the better route… We're excited about it, and Coronado is a nice school to work with.”
       Pre-AP has the added advantage of costing less over time than IB yet providing a similar, desired result: “a more rigorous curriculum,” LeBrasse said. The main up-front expenses are teacher training and materials. The first-year is expected to run about $25,000, the second year $16,000; after that, the average annual expense will be less than $4,000, according to Holmes' estimates.
       She believes that grants can be obtained to cover the costs. One strong grant possibility is with the school district itself. Bill Shell, District 11 middle school director, who will be retiring this month, said he believes Holmes should get “funded easily” through a grant pool the district has from the state that can include “innovative programs.”
       “As a former principal, I had kids who wanted more,” Shell recalled. “The old solution was the homework with the odd questions and having them do the odds and the evens. That doesn't cut it now. These students need more of a challenge. It's good any time a school can bring this kind of thing forward that helps learning and motivates kids.”
       Also working in Holmes' favor is that the school is partnering on the plan, Shell said. Sharing in some of the training/up-front costs are Sabin Middle School, which feeds into Doherty (another AP high school) the way Holmes feeds into Coronado; and Challenger Middle School in District 20.
       Holmes previously received a “thumbs-up” from the District 11 Board of Education, Kreidel said. Together, Holmes and Sabin will become the district's first pre-AP schools, Shell said.
       For students in pre-AP classes, there will be no difference in terms of books, supplies or classroom look and feel. The difference will be in how the classes are taught. “It's more of a way of delivery, how the teacher questions and challenges kids,” Kreidel said. “This will make the curriculum more rigorous.”
       Assuming sufficient funding can be obtained, the first year implementation will take in math, grades 7-8; science, language arts, social studies, foreign language, and visual and performance arts, grade 8; accelerated math and honors choir, grade 6. By the next year, trained teachers will be ready to handle all the academic disciplines in all three grades, Kreidel said.
       Middle-schoolers taking pre-AP won't get high school credits for their efforts, but they will definitely benefit from the experience, Keating said.
       “What Pre-AP will do is help teachers prepare students for the most rigorous courses high school has to offer and to go to college and beyond,” he said.

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