District looks at changing credits

Posted: Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Just what is a high school education?

That's the question the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education is considering as it reviews a proposal to change high school graduation requirements for students in the district.

District administration brought forward a proposal to revamp graduation requirements based on state standards Monday night.

According to Assistant Superin-tendent Sam Stewart, the proposal is a jumping-off point for future discussion.

"This is just a point to begin our discussions," he told the board during a work session Monday. "It's not anything written in blood."

At present, students must be in school for eight semesters, or a full four years, and complete 22 credits. Among those are four credits of language arts, three math credits, three science credits, one physical education credit, a half-credit of health, three credits of practical and-or creative arts and four-and-a-half elective credits.

The proposal would eliminate the time requirement for students and decrease credit requirements from 22 to 21 to match state law. It also would eliminate the practical and creative arts requirement, instead opening up more elective options and cut the physical education requirement to a half credit. In addition, students would have the option of taking only two math credits if one included advanced algebra, and would be able to take any three science credits, rather than the currently required credit of each life and physical science.

Stewart said the intent behind the proposal was to bring the district's requirements in line with the state and to provide more scheduling flexibility for students.

However, both board members and the public had some concerns with the ideas.

Board member Margaret Gilman of Kenai said she worries that eliminating the arts requirement would eventually mean eliminating art in school.

"Every time we talk about what we offer, we go back to graduation requirements," Gilman said. She said if art is not required, eventually, budget concerns may lead to its elimination.

Members of the public agreed.

Bill Carlson, a practical arts teacher at Soldotna High School, told the board he has witnessed the decrease of vocational classes in area high schools and worries the same will happen to the arts.

"If (art) is not required, I see the same thing happening," he said. "If there isn't a requirement, there's nothing that mandates a school has to offer a program."

A couple of students also attended the meeting to speak to the issue.

"The only reason I get up and go to school is art class," said Rocky Dean. "If it's not a required class, when money is tight, it will be first on the chopping block and I would have no reason to go to school."

The board also had other concerns with the proposed changes.

Most said they were OK with the idea of eliminating the time requirement so that students who take full loads could graduate early with more ease.

"We should be demanding, but we shouldn't be wasting people's time," said board member Sandy Wassilie of Seward. "Why set up unnecessary barriers just to keep kids here four years?"

Stewart said the idea is to move away from timeframes all together and focus instead on outcomes.

"When students have the outcomes, then they graduate," he said. "If that's five years, fine. If that's three years, fine."

However, some board members did have problems with the philosophy behind decreasing the overall number of credits required for graduation. Though the state requires only 21 credits, individual school districts have a right to make requirements more strenuous.

Gilman said she dislikes the idea of "dumbing down" requirements in the district.

Board member Debbie Holle of Kasilof said she believes the district's requirements should be aligned with the state's and that the district should focus only on the basics, such as reading, writing and math.

"I don't think we should have a different standard from the state. If we have a standard, let's have a standard," she said. "Additionally, it seems to me, we should spend our money and efforts to offer core curriculum in high school. My thought is perhaps we don't need to have these classes. Let's focus on what our kids need, spend all our time on the fundamentals so they can pass the high school qualifying exams."

Though the board heard a first reading of the requirement changes at its general meeting, the discussion is long from over, board members said. The board will have another hour-long work session at its next meeting in January to continue discussing the proposal before considering action on the changes.

In other business Monday, the board:

n Approved long-term substitute teaching contracts for Tony Jackson, speech, Nikiski Elemen-tary; Sherry Nauta, grades one and two, Nikiski Elementary; and William Rolph, social studies, Soldotna Middle School.

n Approved a resignation from Jill Showman, who currently is on an unpaid leave of absence from Voznesenka School.

n Approved a teaching assignment for Tina M. Skaalerud, special education and resources, Soldotna Elementary School.

n Approved revisions to a number of board policies, bringing them in line with state and federal regulations.

n Approved a board decision from a Kenai Peninsula Student Activities Association hearing held Monday afternoon. Though the details of the hearing are confidential, as they relate to a student, board member Debra Mullins said the board had determined that the student in question had not violated the KPSAA rule that forbids students to possess alcohol. The board reversed the KPSAA decision, expunging the incident from the student's record.

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