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‘Profile of a Graduate’ changes in the works / October 16, 2017

Starting next year, freshmen at Halifax County High School will be required to fulfill Virginia’s new “Profile of a Graduate” requirements before receiving their high school degrees in 2022.

On Thursday night, Halifax County School Board trustees got an early look at the changes, which are due to be finalized by the state Board of Education in December.

Carla Gravitt, supervisor of secondary instruction, presented an overview of the Profile of a Graduate initiative, which is aimed at graduating students who are better prepared both for the workplace and for the world of higher education.

On both counts, current high school graduation requirements fall short, educators say.

Gravitt presented information that underscores the point: according to the Board of Education, among graduates who earn Advanced Studies Diplomas, 70 percent enroll in four-year colleges immediately after high school, but only about 38 percent earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Almost one in five graduates land in developmental English courses once they arrive in college.

For those earning the Standard Diploma, most complete their math requirements by tenth grade and take no additional math classes in high school, and few students enroll in chemistry, physics or computer science classes.

Among students heading directly to the workforce, all too many lack career credentials, exposure to career fields, or the problem-solving and creative thinking skills needed for the modern workplace.

The Profile of a Graduate initiative aims to fix these shortcomings.

The product of 2016 legislation enacted by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. McAuliffe, the new graduation requirements will focus on the five C’s of critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration and civic and community engagement.

While the final curriculum requirements are still under discussion, the Board of Education has proposed that students be required to “maintain course content engagement” in math, science, English and history/social studies through all four years of high school.

On the workforce side, school divisions will be required to provide career planning beginning in elementary school, with the youngest students exposed to programs on various fields. But the real emphasis will come in middle and high school.

By the time students go through high school, they should have hands-on exposure to the world of work, through internships, summer projects, jobs or other career exposures.

By 2022, the Standard Diploma will come with flexible industry certifications, while the Advanced Diploma will focus on a traditional academic rigorous pathway required for institutions of higher learning.

Halifax County will be re-designing its high school program of studies in coming years to align with the state requirements, Gravitt told the School Board.

Also Thursday night, trustees heard from Halifax County Middle School principal Magie Wilkerson and Halifax County High School principal Mike Lewis about a new concept for improving student behavior.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports — the title of the intervention plan —is intended to address problems with discipline and attendance.

Before drafting the plan, the two principals said they had first to determine where the problems lie. The principals examined the percentage of students who wound up in In-School Suspension or were suspended outside of school, as well as the total number of disciplinary actions taken. Disciplinary actions resulted from classroom disruptions, poor attendance, disrespect, defiance, use of obscene language, fighting, improper use of cellphones and various other infractions.

Male students were sent for office disciplinary referrals at nearly double the rate of female students, and referrals were also much higher among African American students than than white students (687 to 362). Also, the number of in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions was much higher among black students than white students.

Wilkerson said the intervention plan focuses on positive expectations — teaching students to be responsible, organized, accountable and respectful in the classroom, hallways, locker rooms, bathrooms and the cafeteria. Rather than being a punitive program, it uses a therapeutic model which stresses rules and behavior management, academic help and support, counseling, behavioral intervention and resolution, student rating and parental involvement.

Teachers are being involved in the concept to teach and demonstrate appropriate behavior.

In other business, trustees discussed the current policy for the use of school facilities by the public for various activities. While several trustees complained that the policy was not being enforced properly, Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg said he will develop guidelines and an application for use of school properties and report back to the board monthly on such uses.

Lineburg asked that trustees approve four more members — Jason Ferrell of Averett Unversity, Mark Gosney, a local citizen, David Graham, HCMS teacher and golf coach and Leon Johnson, retired school administrator — for membership on the Facilities Study Committee that is looking at the physical needs of all the county schools.

Trustees also decided against budgeting $5,000 for a lobbyist at the General Assembly to work for more funding for rural school districts. Paul Nichols, superintendent of schools for Mecklenburg County had asked all the schools in District VIII to consider funding for the lobbyist, but ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield said the Virginia School Board Association — of which the county is a member — already employs a lobbyist for that purpose.

“I don’t feel that it is necessary for us to spend that money,” Satterfield said.

ED-4 trustee Joe Gasperini added that Halifax County can join in the effort next year if trustees feel it necessary to do so.

With the spotlight shining, students at Halifax County Middle School put on an energetic program on fun and educational experiences at their school. The students were accompanied by a big Lion Pride mascot, and HCMS cheerleaders, volleyball team and several speakers told the trustees how much they enjoy their school and its many opportunities in the classroom, on the sports playings fields, in robotics classes and club activities.

“This is a great place to learn,” one young speaker told the trustees.

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