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Trustees toughen grading policy / August 16, 2010
Halifax County Public Schools will no longer allow “social promotions” or marked-up minimum grades for students who fall short on their classroom work, a change from current policy that in some circumstances allows students to move up by grade level despite failing to show mastery of their current coursework.

Meeting at their annual retreat on Friday afternoon, school trustees directed the administration to advise school principals that students will see “the grades they make” on their report cards starting with this year’s first nine week reporting, whether their average is 0 or 100.

The directive came from school trustees as they pondered ways to assure that local schools meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) proficiency standards and more stringent graduation rates set forth under the federal No Child Left Behind law. (Three local schools, the high school, middle school and South Boston Elementary School failed to make AYP this year. See related story.)

Referring to a common practice throughout local schools of giving failing students a minimum score of 60 rather than their actual average grade, trustee Stuart Comer said, “This has got to be corrected today with schools starting on Monday.” Comer made a motion, with trustee Joe Gasperini offering a second, that “whatever grade a student gets, that’s his or her grade for all students in grades 1-12.”

Comer’s motion received unanimous support among the trustees, although earlier in the discussion, trustee Roger Long had suggested that first graders be exempt from the numerical grading and instead use the satisfactory/needs improvement grading system.

As trustees delved into a framework for the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, they set five goals: (1) Increase academic achievement for all students; (2) Provide students and staff with a safe and caring school environment; (3) Recruit, retain and support effective administrators, teachers and staff; (4) Provide equitable facilities and develop a financial plan that accurately reflects system-wide needs; and (5) Create an environment of mutual respect, cooperation and open communication through partnerships with parents, businesses and the community at large.

As School Superintendent Paul Stapleton reminded trustees, the goals communicate, “This is what we want... and this is how we’re going to do it.”

The first goal, boosting academic achievement, included 16 objectives, or “ways to do it,” and although trustees worked on the list they came nowhere close to finishing it.

They spent a lot of time on one objective — providing instructional resources to teachers in order to improve student academic achievement.

After being advised by Finance Director Bill Covington that the Central Office sends an amount equal to $100 per student to each school for discretionary spending, trustees found that school principals control the way the funds are disbursed, and in some schools teachers get larger sums to spend on their students than do teachers at other schools.

Trustees took no action after a discussion of the policy, but members asked for an accounting of how much teachers at each school receive from principals, saying that they want more uniformity in the disbursement of the funds.

After more than three hours of discussion, trustees directed Chairman Walter Potts to establish a committee to study the remaining objectives for the first goal, the 11 objectives for the second goal; the seven objectives for goal three; the five objectives for the fourth goal and the six objectives for goal five.

Named to the committee to further review the goals and objectives were Joe Gasperini, Dr. Roger Long, Kim Farson and Karen Hopkins. The committee will report back to the full board at the next meeting on August 27.

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