Changing curriculum: Nevada Union High School is mandating two freshmen courses; Critics say it’s limiting arts opportunities |

Changing curriculum: Nevada Union High School is mandating two freshmen courses; Critics say it’s limiting arts opportunities

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

Freshmen year will look slightly different at Nevada Union High School this fall.

Students are now required to take a health class as well as a “get focused, stay focused” class sometime over the year, according to school administrators. Consequently, performing arts classes — including drama, band, choir and more — will be more difficult for freshmen to take.

“Maybe instead of four years of music, you have three or two,” said Brett McFadden, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District.

Health class is a freshmen requirement endowed by the state, said McFadden, which is something the high school has neglected to enforce until now. As such, Nevada Union has been out of compliance with state standards, according to the superintendent, despite not having been cited by the state as of yet.

Support Local Journalism

The “get focused, stay focused” class, which will be implemented district-wide, is meant to improve students’ autonomy over their education, and help them more effectively plan for their future, said McFadden. This is important, said McFadden, since Nevada Union students are behind on college and professional readiness. The California Dashboard, however, says the school is in the “Green” for college and career preparedness.

Yuba City music teacher and choir director at Nevada City’s Trinity Church Stan Thomas-Rose said the administrative decision adversely impacts performing arts teachers who were “blind-sided” by the decision.

Thomas-Rose is afraid Nevada Union will destroy its choir program as has happened in some Yuba City schools. The teacher said he was provided numbers by McFadden suggesting about seven freshmen have registered for choir at Nevada Union, compared to 25 last year.

“This will affect the entire performing arts programs for the entire four years,” said Thomas-Rose, since many students need to start music education at the beginning of high school, and may be too intimidated to approach the arts later.

“Imagine what the varsity football team would look like if nobody’s playing freshmen football,” said Thomas-Rose.

Some administrators dispute the change will have a significant effect on students. It is projected that 219 freshmen will take performing arts classes as opposed to 234 that took such classes last year, according to Nevada Union Principal Kelly Rhoden and McFadden.

Thomas-Rose remains skeptical.

“I don’t believe those numbers,” he said. “I don’t believe it.”

Nevada Union’s Choir Director Rod Baggett doesn’t know whether freshmen enrollment in the performance arts will drop or not. He was, however, upset about the opaque process by which the curriculum change was instituted, noting most arts teachers were also unhappy. Baggett said teachers had voted the new schedule proposal down before discovering, through the parent of an eighth grader preparing to attend Nevada Union, that the schedule had in fact passed.

“We knew it would happen eventually but we thought they would fix the schedule first,” said Baggett.


McFadden refuted Thomas-Rose and Baggett’s claim about staff exclusion, saying the change came about through inclusive participation from faculty as it was approved by the curriculum committee, with teachers leading the charge.

Still, the superintendent wants to make performing arts classes more available for freshmen, even though it will require another $1 million and possible cuts to other programs. This, he said, is all a part of the process of fitting an infinite wish list of program puzzle pieces into a finite puzzle set.

“We definitely need to change or expand our course schedules at both Bear River and Nevada Union High School if we want to continue to make the improvements necessary for our students,” he said.

Baggett agreed, saying students are leaving Nevada Union for charter school alternatives because requirements obstruct them from taking the classes they want.

“You barely can fit in all the awesome classes we have to offer,” he said.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Connect with needs and opportunities from

Get immediate access to organizations and people in our area that need your help or can provide help during the Coronavirus crisis.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User