Designed to teach professional skills to advanced students, CAPS waives prerequisites, irks teachers

Jordan Huesers and Sara Naatz, Co-editor, Co-editor

Prerequisites no longer required
Last year, the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) program ceased to require prerequisite classes for students interested in taking CAPS courses.
For example, students no longer have to take elective courses such as Broadcast I to enter the iMedia strand at CAPS, nor Intro to Engineering and Design to enter the engineering strand.
“When we started this program, we had very few prerequisites,” CAPS Executive Director Donna Deeds said. “Now we have some recommendations, but there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules. If a kid really wanted to be here and would move forward into this career path, we would waive them anyway. So, it was almost like why not tell people what’s really occurring?”
CAPS instructor Jill Riffer said taking certain high school courses prior to enrolling in CAPS can provide essential skills for immersion into a professional environment.
“We can’t call it a prerequisite, obviously, but your physics class, your math class, any of the science classes that you start to enjoy — your woodworking class, your interactive design classes and your virtual design classes — all of those are great precursors to CAPS,” Riffer said. “CAPS couldn’t exist if there wasn’t a strong foundation in each of the five high schools.”
Senior Parker Lewis has taken Broadcast I and II as well as CAPS iMedia. He said students who take introductory classes in a subject area are more prepared to enter CAPS classes.
“It definitely helps,” he said. “What I learned from [Denny] Brand definitely helped me excel in iMedia CAPS.”
BVHS elective teachers said they were told their classes would be prerequisites when the idea for CAPS was initially introduced.
“I think there was the assumption that some classes would have prerequisites,” Principal Scott Bacon said.  “I think, in its origination, that was the assumption, and, obviously, that’s changed a little as time has gone on. That was my understanding. I think that was most people’s understanding at the inception.”
Counselor Deb Atkinson said the three-hour block of CAPS poses a problem in student schedules because students may have issues fitting in elective courses as well as CAPS classes.
“When you only have so many bodies and they’re going to go somewhere, they can’t be in two places at once,” she said. “If they’re going to go to CAPS, then obviously they’re not going to be in their building taking alternate courses that they would have taken if CAPS hadn’t been available. There’s that struggle.”
Senior Payton Weaver took Broadcast I and II at BV and is currently enrolled in the filmmaking course at CAPS. He said it would be helpful for students to take prerequisites such as Broadcast I before entering the CAPS program.
“We do use the same programs and some equipment, so kids that don’t use that going into CAPS are definitely less ready to start filming than the rest of us,” he said.
Deeds said part of the reason for the elimination of prerequisites was so that students who are unable to fit prerequisites into their schedules can still be involved in the program.
To make up for some students’ lack of foundational skills upon entrance to the CAPS program, Deeds said they are immediately immersed into a professional environment in which they have one-on-one relationships with professionals.
Broadcast teacher Denny Brand said this experience with professionals is also available in the five high schools.
“Besides 25 years in commercial business and lots of years of teaching, what they get from me is experience,” he said.

Comparing CAPS and elective classes
Deeds said when students choose the CAPS program over elective classes, it can lead to questions and concerns among elective teachers.
“It’s almost just as if you choose one friend versus another friend,” she said. “You know those types of feelings. I think those types of feelings might be happening. Sometimes people might feel like, ‘Wow, how come they’re doing that?’”
Weaver said he decided not to enroll in iMedia based on descriptions of the course, because it seemed similar to broadcast at BVHS.
Brand said he remains confident in the abilities of the high school broadcast programs.
“It would help to have [CAPS] facilities as far as space goes,” he said. “It helps in recruiting. If you brought a student in who didn’t know anything, they would be wowed. But facilities don’t make good broadcast.”

Recruiting strains relationships
The CAPS program has given 138 tours of its facilities so far this year.
The district requires each middle school in the district to take the eighth grade class to tour the CAPS building, a tour paid for by CAPS. But tours are also provided to groups such as Girl Scout troops, sixth grade classes and high school health classes.
“We are required by the district to give a tour to eighth graders,” Prairie Star Middle School Principal Lyn Rantz said. “Every middle school has to give a tour specifically to CAPS. High schools don’t do that. CAPS does. So, that’s an interesting piece.”
Art department chair Mark Mosier said the recruitment process puts a strain on the relationships between CAPS teachers and high school elective teachers.
“As professionals, we are interested in the best opportunities for students, and we always will be,” Mosier said. “As an individual, I am interested in working with great students and, to that end, I am obviously going to be supportive of students in my classroom. But if there are opportunities outside of that classroom, as a professional, again, it is my responsibility to make students aware of those opportunities and support them if they pursue them. Unfortunately, through recruitment and some other things, some rather awkward relationships or situations have been set up. That sometimes puts some teachers in a bind as far as what’s the best advice for students, and what’s the best advice for a program in general that supports those students, whether it’s at the building level or the district level.”

Funding and teacher salaries
Deeds said much of the reason for this recruitment stems from the goal to have 1,000 students for the 2012-13 school year.
When the district built the CAPS facility, it received 100 percent funding for the first two years from the state. After the initial two years, the “new building” funds decrease by 25 percent per year. Deeds said the costs for the CAPS program should not be a burden for the district.
Deeds also said she does not know how the district plans to handle costs once state funding for the CAPS program stops.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Slagle said the number of students enrolled in the CAPS program does not affect costs because the district will absorb new facility costs.
He said Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) goes mainly to teacher salaries.
These salaries remain the same for all teachers in the district based on years of teaching experience as well as degree of education, such as bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate.
“The salary schedule and how you move on it is the same for all teachers in the district,” Deeds said. “But when somebody does something beyond the normal requirements of being a high school teacher, they get a stipend.”
CAPS teachers receive extra pay for a longer work day, with 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. hours as opposed to the 7:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. contract for high school teachers. They also receive stipends for communicating with business partners, mentors and managing real projects, while teaching a changing curriculum.
“That is not a requirement anywhere else in the district, so that was one of the things that is an extra thing they have to do,” Deeds said.
Atkinson said recent focus on the CAPS program has caused elective teachers at BVHS to feel undervalued.
“I think there’s just so much support and energy that’s been put towards the CAPS program, and certainly when you talk to the people who are building that program, you have a better understanding of how important it is, and certainly, the feedback from the kids has, overall, been positive,” she said. “So you get all that part, but again, it’s that perception for the staff in the building, of ‘I’ve been here working hard, doing my job, doing how I thought everybody wanted me to do, but now, I’m not as valued or as important.’”