September 8, 2011 |

Should high school be more difficult? Board mulls graduation requirements

Should Haines High School graduation requirements be changed or stiffened?

The Haines Borough school board took up that question Tuesday, at the request of board chair Carol Kelly. "It seems to me a student could graduate in three and a half years here, and it seems we have more to offer," she said.

Rather than the board making changes, Kelly said she wanted the staff to take up the issue and make recommendations. The board discussed the question at length at its meeting this week.

The issue has been circulating in the district for years, raised in part by the schedules of some high school seniors who, having mostly fulfilled their graduation requirements, attend classes part-time.

For graduating high school in Haines, 24.5 credits are required, including English (4), social studies (3.5), math (3), science (3), physical education (1.5), fine arts (1), health (.5), computer education (.5), and financial literacy (.5). Students may take electives equivalent to seven credits.

A one-semester class is equivalent to .5 credits.

Board member Stacie Turner said students have to be consulted in any changes to requirements and expressed concern that stricter requirements may challenge or discourage students already struggling academically.

"It’s not going to draw in students doing well, but affect those not doing well," Turner said.

Superintendent Michael Byer gave board members examples of graduation requirements for other Southeast schools. Board member Nelle Jurgeleit-Greene pointed to the Juneau requirements as a model she liked and that might fit Haines.

Juneau offers three "tracks" for students, with increasing numbers of credits required for second and third tracks. The first track fulfills basic high school graduation requirements that meet entry guidelines for most two-year colleges and technical schools; the second outlines college preparatory requirements, and a third establishes credits and courses for students wanting to attend more competitive colleges.

Several board members said that Haines students might benefit from more vocational and technical offerings or requirements. "That gives them a glimpse into something else," said board member Sarah Swinton.

Other members had ideas for academic areas where they would like more course offerings or requirements.

Kelly said she believes physical education should be required each year. Student board representative Royal Henderson said the school should consider offering more advanced placement classes in the social sciences and fine arts. Superintendent Byer said he was interested in trying to offer more distance learning opportunities.

Byer recently was named to the advisory council of the Alaska Learning Network that is working the state to create a menu of courses available through distance education for high school students.

The matter was referred to the staff for considering with no date set for it to be taken up again by the board.

In other board items, Byer in his facilities update addressed a planned new gym floor. The project received funding in the last state capital budget. Byer said a Juneau engineering firm told him that to remove the current floor, the entire gym would have to be sealed for several days. Also, the floor would likely not be able to be salvaged because separating the wood flooring from the asbestos glue would be too expensive. The cost of the asbestos abatement may be reduced if work is combined with other borough asbestos abatement jobs next summer, Byer said.

The board also passed a motion to give two district support personnel a 4 percent salary increase in line with other classified employees. Ashley Sage, district administrative assistant, and Judy Erekson, district bookkeeper, are not part of the negotiated agreement for other classified staff, but traditionally, by board action, have been given the same step pay increases.

The board also took up the topic of administration pay in executive session. The assistant principals currently receive less than the highest paid teacher. The board approved adjusting that pay this year to equal the daily rate of the highest-paid teacher.

In future years, assistant principal pay will be set 3 percent higher than the highest teacher pay, principal pay will be 6 percent higher, and superintendent pay will be 12 percent higher.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 4.