Neptune mom fights to get her honor student in honors classes

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Mom puts herself on city street corner to raise money for daughter’s college education.
Noe Hernandez/Battle Creek Enquirer

NEPTUNE – When Erin Gerencser learned her son would not be in honors science and social studies as he entered seventh grade at Neptune Middle School, she was confused and angry. 

Her son, Christian, was a National Honors Society member, a routine honor roll student, and an A student in his sixth-grade honors classes. 

But despite his grades and teacher recommendations, Gerencser said her son was denied taking honors science and social studies this year.

“They’re demoting him, putting him in general education classes,” Gerencser said. 

The only noticeable blemishes on his report card were two C’s on final exams in both classes. Yet, his final grades remained A’s, according to his report card.

Now Gerencser is fighting to have her son placed back into these honors classes, and said his future depends on it.

“He’s not going to learn what he needs to know to get (back) into those (honors) classes in general education,” she said. “It’s going to hold him back.”

In an age when state and federal officials are pressuring public schools to better prepare students for college, Gerencser questioned the logic behind her son’s schedule change. 

“The whole system to me doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “In any other school, an A is going to keep you in an honors class.”

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Weighted formula

Neptune Township School District officials determine which middle school students are placed in honors based on a weighted formula, Superintendent Tami Crader said in an email.

The formula considers the student’s final grade, their final exam grade, adds 10 points if the teacher recommends the student for honors, and adds another 10 points if the student is already in honors, Crader said. The students are then ranked by their weighted score and the top 46 to 48 students are placed into honors classes for the coming school year, she said. 

Gerencser is not content with the explanation. She wants Neptune to expand access to its honors classes.

“(If) there’s not enough room for them, they should hire another teacher instead of demoting them to a general education class,” she said.

Nothing compels school districts to hire an additional honors teacher. The decision is up to each school district whether to offer Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate or honors classes, New Jersey Department of Education press secretary Dave Saenz said in an email to a reporter.

But New Jersey law does require each school district to provide services for gifted and talented students, even though the state Department of Education has not adopted standards for these programs. 

John Henning, the dean of Monmouth University‘s School of Education, understands Gerencser’s frustration well. That’s because he lived through a similar problem with his own child.

When Henning’s son failed to get into an honors English class, Henning remembers being worried.

“I saw the pace he was going and as a parent, I was quite concerned,” he recalled.

Challenging gifted students

Henning said it can be difficult to adequately challenge gifted students in general education classes, despite a recent push for “differentiated instruction” in modern classrooms.

The concept behind differentiated instruction is to have students set a pace that best suits their individual needs and abilities, but for a teacher with more than 120 students in classes of different abilities, differentiating instruction can be a serious challenge, he said. 

“That’s a pretty big demand day to day,” Henning said. “I did find (as a teacher) that I could challenge the higher-level students better if they were in an honors class.”

There is a long-running debate among scholars of education on whether it is fair to remove the best students in schools from general education classrooms, frequently because those students help set atmospheres conducive to learning and ask higher-level questions that benefit all students in the class, Henning said. 

Yet, if given a choice, most parents of these advanced students would prefer they be in honors classes with a faster pace and more rigorous expectations than a general education course, he said.

Gerencser echoes those concerns and worries about how general education classes will affect her son’s future.

WIthout taking honors science and social studies classes in junior high, she said Christian will not be prepared for advanced classes in high school. That will set him behind some of his peers as he prepares for college. 

“I know that if he doesn’t stay in these classes, it’s basically screwing with his future,” said Gerencser. “It’s not fair.”

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