Group suggests Odyssey changes

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The Graduation Requirements Committee will recommend to the Steamboat Springs School Board that the Senior Odyssey program no longer be a requirement at Steamboat Springs High School, beginning with the 2006-07 school year.

As months of research and discussion culminated in a final meeting Tuesday night, members of the requirements committee agreed to recommend a proposal written by high school administrators and Odyssey instructors.

High school principal and committee member Mike Knezevich read the proposal aloud at the meeting.

"For well over 25 years, the Steam--boat Springs School District has required a Career and Technology credit for graduation. In the last two years, Senior Odyssey has been the only option to meet this requirement," Knezevich read.

"We would like to propose that Senior Odyssey would become one of 15 different half- and full-credit classes that would meet the district's Career and Technology requirement. This proposal would return the graduation requirements in Career and Tech to those that existed prior to the graduating class of 2005."

The School Board will decide in January whether to adopt the proposal, which does not change graduation requirements for the current senior class.

Knezevich said many of the 15 classes are offered to students in grades nine through 12, giving students flexibility as to when they fulfill the requirement.

High school staff would be willing to discuss allowing juniors to take Senior Odyssey classes, Knezevich said, should the proposal be adopted.

Odyssey staff including learning support specialist Carole Buelter, career and college counselor Gayle Dudley and teachers Julie Brownell, Marty Lamansky and Kim Mayer attended Tuesday's meeting to support the proposal they helped create.

But as committee members discussed the proposal, Buelter -- a member of the committee -- decided she had heard enough.

"It appears obvious that the (school) board has already determined the fate of Senior Odyssey," Buelter said. "I will no longer serve on this committee."

The other Odyssey staff members followed Buelter out the door. Lamansky said they fully supported the proposal and Buelter's decision to leave the meeting, but not her specific reason for doing so.

Buelter could not be reached for comment after the meeting Tuesday night. Her husband, Jerry Buelter, assistant principal of Steamboat Springs Middle School, said Carole Buelter was frustrated with the amount of work put in by the requirements committee and had "a gut feeling" that the work would not be heeded by School Board members who already had made up their minds about Senior Odyssey.

Several members of the re----quirements committee said al----though they respect the decision of high school staff, the proposal represents too much of a compromise for Knezevich and teachers who have staunchly defended the Odyssey program.

"I feel this (proposal) is not in their heart of hearts," said Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop. "My take on it is that they felt this was the best way to manage the situation. I would 100 percent support keeping (Odyssey as a requirement). As painful, painful as it is for me to say, I support this recommendation from the high school."

Robin Crossan, president of the Education Fund Board, told Knezevich the proposal could set a harmful precedent for the school district.

"I am deeply disappointed with the administration's recommendation, because I feel that you believe in the (Odyssey) program," she said. "In my mind, you're backing down because of a public stance. I'm very concerned with the direction we are taking as a school district."

The Odyssey program has stirred controversy in Steamboat since it was made a mandatory requirement for seniors at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year. Last month, about 150 students, mostly seniors, walked out of the high school in the middle of classes to protest Odyssey requirements. At a Dec. 7 public forum, many parents and students expressed displeasure with the program, and a nearly equal amount praised it.

At Tuesday's meeting, committee member Judy Ludwig supported critique from parents.

"I feel that parents have every right in the world to oppose something they don't see the benefit of," said Ludwig, media specialist at the middle school and mother of a senior at the high school.

Knezevich said he does not consider the proposal a "bail-out," a term used by committee member Tom Ptach.

"With the current realities that we are facing, we feel this is the best way to move forward," Knezevich said.

He added that, according to the proposal, essential elements of the Odyssey program such as career planning and interview preparation would be used in other Career and Technology classes.

"We would be doing students a huge disservice if we didn't find a way to incorporate these elements," he said after the meeting. "Career exploration needs to be a part of all these classes."

The committee also decided to include in its recommendation another Odyssey proposal, which did not receive consensus from the group but did earn a "yes" vote from 10 of 17 voters.

That recommendation calls for keeping Senior Odyssey as a requirement but allowing students to take the class portion as juniors, making assignments more rigorous, keeping the project portion in the second semester of the senior year and allowing qualified students to appeal, opt or test out of the class portion.

District Superintendent Donna Howell said the School Board likely will review the recommendations at its Jan. 9 meeting and take action at a meeting Jan. 23.

"There are some real intense emotions here," Howell said to committee members. "Whatever the final decision is, we have to take our energy and move forward in a positive way."

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