Petersburg’s school board Tuesday approved one new course for the high school for next year but wanted to wait until next month before giving the OK for another. Board members had concerns about a proposed history elective covering the Vietnam War.

Teacher Dave Owens is interested in teaching a more introductory course in the high school shop. Called Shop LITE (low intensity technology education), it would introduce students to basic automotive maintenance, computer design, metal and woodworking. The aim would be to make the shop building a little less intimidating for students.

Principal Rick Dormer explained the thinking behind that new offering. “Pretty much we don’t have enough girls in the shop, I’m just gonna say it,” Dormer said. “You know it’s kind of a boy-heavy class area I guess and we don’t have enough girls in there and you could say vice versa with home ec(onomics) getting more boys and voc(actional) ed(ucation) funds require you to try to balance that as you should. You want it open to everybody.”

Shop LITE could take advantage of new computer technology already in use at the high school shop an open up possibilities creating metal artwork from recycled materials. Board member Megan Litster liked the idea of pairing shop and art together. “You kinda see in pop culture right now there’s women wanting to make their own stuff instead of having to have someone else do it,” Litster said. “Get creative, you design it, go make it, so, cool.” The board approved that new course 5-0.

However, board members wanted to wait a month before giving approval on another new offering. High school social studies teacher Jim Engell is interested in teaching one-semester history elective on the Vietnam War. It’s a topic that he’s covered as just one part of other past classes. He told the board he was looking at using a textbook called “The Tragedy of Vietnam,” written by Purdue professor Patrick Hearden.
Board member Mara Lutomski wondered about the direction of the course. “I took a Vietnam War literature class in college and it was reading Vietnam or literature about Vietnam is very graphic and that professor also brought in movies that were based upon the Vietnam War, etc. So I’m just wondering, where’s he going, is he just doing basic facts, or will there be elements of personal accounts, how they felt afterwards, what was the impact on them when they returned to the United States, etc. Like where are they going with, where are they going with this class?” Lutomski asked.

Principal Dormer thought the syllabus looked pretty fact-based and did not think the graphic movies from the conflict would be shown. Engell and past students have interviewed many of Petersburg’s war veterans over the years and even created a documentary on one local and his experiences aboard a Navy destroyer in World War II.

Board president Sarah Holmgrain thought the teacher would be fair to those who fought the country. “I guess I feel pretty confident with Mr. Engell’s ability to keep it factually-based and non-politically driven just because of having my own child go through his class several years ago and they did discuss it and it just didn’t get to be a whole class. And very supportive of our local vets and their experiences without becoming overly graphic for the age group which he was teaching,” Holmgrain said. “I cant imagine he’s changed his vein that dramatically from when Amanda was in high school.”

Other board members wanted to look at the textbook before giving their approval. They voted 5-0 to table that decision until next month. If they do approve, that new course could be available for students starting next school year.

Also Tuesday, the board also approved a new social studies curriculum for the district – that’s essentially a plan for the subjects and teaching materials used from grade to grade. A district committee of teachers and administrators reviews and updates curriculum for subjects on a rotating schedule. Teacher Ginger Evens explained that the committee tried to line up the subject matter to national standards from kindergarten through 12th grade. “It was great working this year with the elementary staff and we lined it all up to really visually see where we had to make some adjustments, because we were overlapping quite a bit in some areas,” Evens said. “So we think we have a nice scope and sequence K-12.”

The board voted 5-0 to approve the social studies curriculum. Next year the district will be updating science curriculum.

In other decisions Tuesday, the board approved a new three-year contract for district support personnel, pending approval by those employees. The board also OK’d a three percent signing incentive to be paid to those employees, the same signing incentive paid to teachers and other workers in the school district this year.