October 6, 2011 |

School one of few making grade

The Haines Borough School District is among 12 of 54 districts statewide to reach yearly progress standards under the No Child Left Behind Act, superintendent Michael Byer told the school board this week.

The district’s special education students are still below proficiency in English and math, but have shown sufficient improvement to make the grade, Byer said. Students are tested each spring under the program.

Federal proficiency standards increase each year, making the targets more difficult to reach, Byer said. At 55 percent proficiency in math, special education students were nearly 20 points below the current standard of 74.57 percent, up from last year’s standard of 66.09 percent.

At 67 percent proficiency in English, students fell short of an 82.88 percent standard, up from 77.18 last year.

Byer credited recent efforts at improving reading skills in lower grades for keeping the district within federal law. The district’s federally mandated "report cards" to the public can be seen at www.hbsd.net under the "shortcuts" tab.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board:

· Considered options for increasing participation in an alumni survey after hearing only eight graduates have responded so far;

· Discussed increasing the number of credits or the types of classes required for graduation; and,

· Heard an update about the high school’s Power Systems class, which won the statewide "KidWind Design Challenge" competition last year, topping 50 teams from 27 schools.

Counselor Lindsey Moore said she’s investigating for-hire tracking companies to contact Haines High School graduates about completing a graduate survey, particularly ones without current local ties.

school board members say they need graduate input to determine how well the district is serving its "customers."

Members were encouraged by the eight responses, which included specific comments that generally lauded science and math offerings, but were critical of social studies courses described as not challenging or outdated.

"This is good information. It gives us areas we need to work on and improve," said member Brian Clay. The survey can be completed at the district’s website, www.hbsd.net, under "announcements."

Board members agreed the district should more aggressively advertise the survey and would track the Wrangell school district’s experience with a graduate tracking service.

Discussion of graduation requirements ranged widely, with some members pursuing an increase in the minimum number of credits. The district has also looked at models that would add a "college track" diploma that would require more credits.

"Why don’t we raise the bar for everybody?" asked Anne Marie Palmieri.

Others, however, said that would keep some students from graduating with their classes. Those students would be categorized by the state as "dropouts" and numbers of them could hurt funding levels by legislators who tie funding to school success, said member Sean Cone.

New vocational programs might keep students interested in school after reaching graduation requirements, some said.

The discussion arose, in part, from concerns about high school seniors spending only a few hours per day in school. Moore said some concerns about that have been allayed by a new regulation allowing students to miss only the first and last periods of the day, and by a student activities requirement that mandates five classes per semester.

Byer said he would discuss graduation standards with other superintendents at an upcoming conference.

High school science teacher Mark Fontenot reported that students from the Power Systems Class attended the recent Rural Energy Conference in Juneau, giving a presentation to hundreds of energy professionals there.

"The kids did all the speaking, and they were asked a lot of questions. After that, they were rock stars," Fontenot said.

Students worked in teams of four to create wind turbines that were tested in a wind tunnel for performance. They were required to demonstrate a knowledge of wind energy principles.