County School Board debates lower credits for graduation

The Blount County School Board debated lowering the academic credits needed to graduate high school to balance with the new state standards that will start in the 2009-2010 school year.

Tennessee’s new requirements will include additional courses in math, foreign languages and science. On top of the new courses, it will take students 22 credits to graduate with a state diploma rather than the current 21. At Blount County, it takes students 28 credits to graduate with a local Blount County diploma. This year, the board allowed students to request state diplomas and 30 students took advantage of the lower requirements.

The board moved the measure to the policy committee and did not take any action as the members were concerned over the educational value of lower standards. “Are we trying to educate our kids or graduate our kids,” board member Mike Treadway said. Board member John Davis said he believes students in Blount County want to take more than the state’s requirements. “Twenty-one credits are a base,” he said. “We at Blount County go beyond that base. We are better than that.”

Jane Morton, supervisor of grades 6-12, said if the board decides to lower the graduation rate there will be three different graduation policies next year, and each student will have the ability to graduate early with a state diploma. “Kids know that it is there, and we will have more requests,” Morton said.

Patty Mandigo, principal at Heritage High School, said students asking for a state diploma need a written statement from parents which is sent to a counselor and is then approved by the principal. Her school had 10 state diplomas, and they were only approved because of “extenuating circumstances.”

Steve Lafon, William Blount’s principal, said some of the 20 students that received a state diploma from his school just wanted to start working. “They had to get out and start making money to support their families,” he said.

Legally the board cannot keep a student from graduating after he receives 21 credits. Davis said that if he was still in high school, and he needed fewer credits, that’s all he would do. “If they let me have 12. I’d have 12,” he said.

In a few years, the early graduation loophole will close as new state requirements will force students to take one math course every year, Morton said.

One item the board did lower is the number of days that a student can be absent. Currently a student is allowed to miss 10 days a semester, excused or unexcused, before the student loses class credit. Now students can only miss seven days before there is loss of credit.

Morton said the policy committee all agreed that 10 days was too many and seven was a better fit. Once a student misses more than seven days of school, he can appeal the loss of credit. This new policy does not count school activities as missed days.

The board also heard from Supervisor of Technology and Facilities Brian Bell’s recommendation to tear down the Porter Elementary School stadium and press box. He said the area was unsafe and needed to be addressed. The item was sent to committee for recommendation.

In addition, Bell read a letter from the city saying Porter Elementary is breaking the law with the amount of grease released into the sewer system. He said the city wants the grease trap replaced by next year and is now awaiting bids.

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