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Change strategy for enrollment in top classes

Published March 31, 2004

Re: Honors and advanced placement classes

Editor: I hope that the proposal for deciding which students would be able to be enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes will be reconsidered for two major reasons.

First, but least important, is that a 3.0 grade point average has become relatively meaningless. With the growth of grade inflation, many teachers give higher grades than actually earned. On too many occasions, I have seen letters stating "My child is a good student. How could they possibly fail the FCAT test?" Or, "My child made all Bs or better. How could they fail to pass the FCAT tests?"

This explains why colleges and universities have to have so many remedial classes in basic subjects when the students arrive. As a former professor at a major university, I was appalled at the lack of quality in the entering students. Although I taught mostly graduate and advanced courses, all of us taught at least one entry-level course each year, and over the 34 years I was at the university, the performance level declined dramatically.

The most important reason is that so many really bright students are bored out of their gourd by the courses they are taking and the quality of the instruction they are given. I can speak from direct experience.

Hence, they frequently do poorly because they do not complete their work. I have two sons who are gifted (I have a gifted daughter as well, but girls seem to be more tolerant). All of our children took honors courses because they were gifted, but this did not necessarily help. The advanced math teacher sent my daughter home crying because if she were asked a question, all the teacher did was reread the book to the questioner. Their physics teacher was a disaster, and so on.

Fortunately their home environment compensated for the problems. Both boys learned to read proficiently before they were 4. They read the Americana Encyclopedia through. They read the magazines in our home, including Scientific American, Discover, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Time, and others, as well as all the books we would allow them to bring home from the library. Both aced the standard tests and IQ tests given at school, and one was entered into a program sponsored by Johns Hopkins for seventh-graders and easily surpassed the SAT test levels required to enter the university at which I worked.

Sounds like they should have been straight-A students, doesn't it? But they were perfectly happy with the gentlemanly C's they brought home. They both did well, not great, in college, until graduate school, where they did just fine. Incidentally, one earned a full year of Advanced Placement credit, and the other should have but took one less AP test. They both made higher than 1,500 on their SAT tests without an iota of preparation.

The school administration says they would give waivers for exceptional cases, but would the teachers have recognized that they qualified? In my own case, I had a similar track record in high school, and I saw my profile when I entered college. "Expected to be an average student" and I was until I encountered some really excellent teachers in my sophomore year and wound up with a 3.7 average, with majors in physics and math and a minor in chemistry.

Every graduate school to which I applied offered me full financial support, and I finally got my Ph.D. in physics from Duke University, a pretty decent school. I made full professor at Virginia Tech and did extremely well professionally.

The point I am trying to make is that a rigid high school grade point average is a very poor criteria. It has the same flaws that a rigid FCAT score has.

Other factors must be considered. There are other indicators of promise, as I have pointed out. If students want to try an honors course or an Advanced Placement course, for goodness sake let them. You just might save someone who would otherwise fall by the wayside.

One caveat: make sure the teachers who teach the courses are equally bright and qualified - not just those who have years of seniority or have accumulated lots of course credits - and are innovative and challenging.

-- A. Keith Furr, Brooksville

If Spring Hill is incorporated, everyone will realize benefits

Re: Incorporation of Spring Hill

Editor: I may not be in my right mind but am definitely in favor of incorporation for Spring Hill. The concept is to reduce the tax burden, not increase it, and to focus on the specific needs of this community, not on those of Hernando County at large.

I need not go outside Florida for examples of city government, from large to small, but I should point out that our county seat is in the incorporated city of Brooksville.

When a state-by-state search is done, there are few examples of municipalities giving up their charters to return to county governance.

I would like to see the taxes paid by Spring Hill residents go for Spring Hill improvements.

-- Thomas R. Malone, Spring Hill

School Board, administration must spend tax dollars wisely

Editor: Congratulations to our entire school system and county taxpayers on the passage of the sales tax referendum. Now our School Board and administration must be good stewards of our tax dollars.

Guidelines for construction should be established by the entire administration, not just the School Board.

Below are some suggestions:

1. Build only two-story structures.

2. Design schools to have room for expansion.

3. Include athletic facilities when planning school construction to avoid a repeat of the problems facing Nature Coast Technical High School.

4. Eliminate unnecessary architectural features, such as unusable roof structures and empty spaces (Powell Middle School, Central High School).

5. School construction on the east side of the county (Ridge Manor) should include a satellite bus compound. This would cut way down on transportation costs. Fuel costs could become a real money vacuum soon.

6. Use top-quality HVAC equipment, making energy consumption a top priority, including the very best temperature control systems.

7. Research the highest quality floor covering system with durability and maintenance in mind.

8. Look 20 years ahead to construct buildings with long life spans.

In closing, we have to try to control the architects we hire for any building design projects. Many architects hold a subjective view of their designs. We need to let them know we want very succinct and cost-effective designs.

-- R.J. Robinson, Spring Hill

Speeding drivers must realize the danger they pose to others

Editor: First, I must qualify myself as to why I am writing this letter. I am a senior citizen who has driven almost 1,000,000 miles accident- and ticket-free. I drive at the speed limit, or slower, as traffic allows.

I believe that all of the fuss about using a county truck to disguise speed traps is crazy. Maybe we should eliminate members of the Sheriff's Office who, while working undercover, arrest drug peddlers and others who violate the law. Are speeding, tailgating, road rage and DUI driving considered okay for "law-abiding citizens?"

I read a recent letter to the editor that said "a driver should not be ticketed for driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit." I have never heard of this happening. I have seen drivers going, in my estimate, 20 mph over the limit.

I believe Sheriff Richard Nugent should use every available method to get drivers to realize the car they are driving can become a 3,000-or-more-pound murder weapon.

Many years ago, my brother was given a ticket for speeding. The judge fined him, and he had to go to a hospital and give that amount to a seriously injured car accident patient. I think this was a great idea.

-- Ron Weinert, Brooksville

Common courtesy is required on all sides of the RV issue

Re: Who's steering the RV, March 21 Chase Squires column

Editor: Chase Squires seems to be of the opinion that we need a special license to operate these vehicles. Although I don't totally disagree with that thinking, I do want to make a few points.

Most of us are not novices at driving these vehicles. We started out towing travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers.

Believe it or not, getting behind the wheel of a pickup with one of these units attached is no different from taking the wheel of a large motor home.

Rules of the road and common sense have to prevail. However, how many times in our 20 years of driving recreational vehicles have we been cut off by an impatient motorist who can't stand the idea of being behind us? Most of these motorists are doing other things while driving, such as talking on the cell phone, reading the newspaper or applying makeup. They see what they think is a small space for them in front of us and whip their vehicle right in, expecting us to stop our land yacht on the dime so as not to hit them.

No matter how much experience you have or how many special licenses you have, there is no way you can stop any of the above-mentioned vehicles on a dime to prevent a collision.

Most RV drivers have been doing this for many years, and although we may not have a special license to operate them, we have years of experience, a great deal of common sense and a lot of road courtesy, which is something we don't find among the drivers of cars.

Having training and a special license will not stop accidents from occurring. Road courtesy and common sense will. People have to have their full focus on driving, whether they are in a car, truck or RV.

And, just for the record, anyone who would allow a 16-year-old driver behind the wheel of any RV obviously does not have both oars in the water!

-- Donna LaBarbera, Dunedin [Last modified March 31, 2004, 01:35:39]

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