Members of the Troy community expressed their disagreement with the Troy Board of Education following a decision to alter the honors course for middle school math classes.

Members of the Troy community expressed their disagreement with the Troy Board of Education following a decision to alter the honors course for middle school math classes.

Photo provided by Alex Karpowitsch

Troy community group calling for recall of school board members after curriculum disagreement

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published July 25, 2023


TROY — A disagreement over the Troy School District’s curriculum may escalate into recall efforts for four members of the district’s school board.

The conflict began in February, when the board began discussing proposed changes to the middle school math curriculum. Previously, the curriculum split students into either an honors course or a standard course beginning in the sixth grade. The new plan would keep the students in the same courses until the start of eighth grade, when they could decide whether they wanted to take the honors route or not.

“People often move to Troy because of the good schools. We don’t want to lose that by ‘dumbing down’ our curriculum,” said Alex Karpowitsch, an organizer with Keep Troy Honors, a group which was created to maintain the old curriculum. “We want to let the public decide what policies they want their community to take.”

A petition was begun by some members of Keep Troy Honors to recall four board members, Gary Hauff, Nicole L. Wilson, Karl Schmidt, and Nancy Philippart. A total of 8,000 signatures for each recalled board member would be needed by Aug. 4 for the recall efforts for all four candidates to make it onto ballots in the autumn.

“The vote to adopt the new curriculum was six in favor, one opposed; and Trustee Vital Anne, who was the only one to vote against it, has posted publicly that she is against the recall and asked people not to sign any petition, the Troy School District said in an email. “New trustees Emina Aliq and Matt Haupt were just elected in November and as such, according to the bylaws, cannot be subject to a recall until they have been in their positions for a certain period of time.”

Wilson and Philppart declined to comment on the topic. Hauff did not respond to requests for comment prior to press time.

Board of Education President Karl Schmidt, one of the board members whose recall has been proposed, said that the curriculum issue is moot since any middle school student in Troy will still have the same chance to take Algebra 1 before high school, which was the most advanced point a student could reach under the old system.

“(In) the original pathway, you were selected by teachers and test scores. If you are selected for the advanced pathway, it ends with Algebra 1 in eighth grade. The new curriculum is more rigorous so each student taking math in sixth and seventh grade is prepared to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. All of our students will be further along by the end of seventh grade,” he said. “The conventional pathway kids were far behind the kids in the advanced class by the eighth grade. Now they are on more of an even footing when it comes time to choose the advanced path. Those in the conventional pathway never had the chance to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade.”

Karpowitsch said that students need more advanced classes to prepare for Algebra 1 in the eighth grade and said that the board acted inappropriately by making claims that parents’ efforts in opposition to the change were led by outside influences.

“You don’t wake up one day and decide to be an AP student,” he said. “What frustrated us was a letter sent by the superintendent stating the opposition to these changes stem from an outside group and not from within the community. This was false. We were disappointed that they are seeing parents asking very reasonable questions as a threat. … We feel like they are trying to gaslight us.”

Schmidt said that this new system is the opposite of “dumbing down” the curriculum.

“The argument is that we are eliminating honors and dumbing down the curriculum,” said Schmidt. “We are not snipping off a branch of the tree. We are changing the shape of the tree. They don’t believe you can level-up a curriculum, but you can, and now we have everyone getting a fair chance to get algebra before high school. We’ve explained this all over and over again. The other side has said we hadn’t done a sufficient pilot (program). We can’t really do that for a whole curriculum. No school district tests a curriculum the way they want it. We can’t create a program that we are shoving one group of students in and the rest we’re not. The curriculum is not new to the country, it’s been used in districts all over the place. It’s only new to us.”

Karpowitsch said that in addition to the concerns over the curriculum, the recall effort is led by parents upset that there is a school board that they believe doesn’t listen to the concerns of parents.

“We have the ability to do a recall in Oakland County,” he said. “These are elected officials. They answer to the community, and they work in conjunction with the administration to pursue a path for the curriculum that takes parents’ considerations and concerns into consideration. We have a three-decade track record of these courses being offered, so they should have a good reason to change it. We asked them for a reason to change this curriculum framework in middle school math and why they are eliminating honors options. We asked them to show us a district that had done this and it resulted in improved test scores. They couldn’t.”

“Ultimately, if we are being recalled, it is for opening up advanced math to more Troy kids,” Schmidt countered. “It’s amazing to me that people are so angry at this. We are following the science that says that we should not be tracking kids on two tracks as early as sixth grade. Studies show that you shouldn’t do that before the eighth grade. It takes the school out of the business of picking winners and losers because it allows the parents and students to decide which path they want to go on instead of relying on a standardized test or teacher recommendation, which is how it is done now.”

He added that just because this new system hasn’t been tried in Troy before doesn’t mean it is untested, since he said it has been found to be successful in districts all over the country.

“We don’t want to segregate our kids into two tracks and they don’t accept that the research shows that this segregation is bad for the kids. This has been a thoroughly examined change,” said Schmidt. “We want to get the school distinct out of the business of picking winners and losers. We want families to have the tools to make decisions about education paths for themselves.”

Karpowitsch said that regardless of the recall efforts, he believes the district needs a change in leadership on the board.

“I am running for school board if the recall is successful. If not, I will be running for a seat in 2024,” he remarked. “We are trying to create a new group to keep these efforts going. We want a board that represents the interests of the community, and the needs of the students and the teachers.”