Two significant changes to district and high school policies are coming to Avon Lake City Schools. The Board of Education will soon consider reducing the number of credits required for high school students to graduate, as well as loosening the standard of an excused absence.
High school Principal Joanie Walker and guidance counselor Lisa Lefevre explained at the April 9 Board of Education meeting the proposal to reduce the number of required credits from 24 to the state minimum of 21 because of the 42 fewer sections available in the coming school year after the district cut one family and consumer science teacher and did not replace seven of the 10 retired high school teachers.
“Although that sounds negative, because we have such an enriched program and enriched curriculum, we’re able to make changes on the recommendations of the guidance office and myself,” Walker told the board. “They can still have the AP and core classes they need to prepare for college.”
The current requirement is 24 credits, Lefevre said, which averages to six credits per year at the high school. By reducing the requirement to 21, the credit load would be six credits each for the freshman and sophomore years, she said, and then five credits each for the junior and senior years. Because that actually adds up to 22, it gives the students a built-in cushion. The reduction in credits would only apply to the elective credit requirement, not core classes, she said.
To handle the lower credit requirements, the high school could allow juniors and seniors a choice to come in one period later in the day or leave one period earlier so they are not stuck with another study hall.
“We would have students sitting in study halls packed to the seams, and that’s not necessarily that productive,” Walker said.
However, if there are any disciplinary issues or other problems, the late arrival or early dismissal could be revoked, Lefevre added. The student would then have to earn it back, she said.
When comparing graduation rates to those of other school districts, it hasn’t been a fair comparison because they have lower credit requirements, Walker said; but the Avon Lake district is still judged against them, even though its credit requirement is higher.
Board member Dale Cracas asked if the high school could provide a report on the average number of credits the senior class graduates with.
“If we’re still seeing students take a full load and with more rigorous courses, dropping to 21 – I don’t have a problem with it,” he said.
Lefevre said the school could have it for him by the end of this year.
How many middle school students start high school with high school credit? board member Jim Stobe asked.
Most of the incoming freshmen have it, Lefevre said, and about half of the current juniors came in with it.
The board will likely hold a first reading of the new policy at its May meeting and then hold a vote in June. Should the board approve it in June, Walker said she would send out notifications through GradeBook Wizard and then announce it again at the freshman orientation in August. There would also be a handout given out during schedule pickups, she added.
Unexcused to be excused
The state requires students be in school for 90 percent of the school year, Superintendent Bob Scott said in an interview. Excused and unexcused absences come into play for those who are close to falling below 90 percent, he said.
“We’ve always had a very, very strict policy for absences,” he said, referring to the requirement of a doctor’s note in order for an absence to be considered excused.
If a student is sick, he or she can’t help it, he said, but not every illness has parents taking their child to the doctor. When the flu hits, parents know what it is and don’t need a doctor’s diagnosis, he said, and the district has had difficulty following its own rules in these cases.
When the state looks at attendance, it does not count a student as “there” with an unexcused absence, Scott said. The Ohio Department of Education takes attendance numbers every October to look at enrollment for the year, he said, but there is a House bill that would have school districts report attendance every month. The district already keeps track of that, he said, but now it would just report it to the state.
Should the House bill become law, he said, it would be “more important for us to have the enrollment correct. If we don’t accept parents’ notes, those kids are not counted in enrollment.”
The state calculates the amount districts spend on each student through the official enrollment numbers, he said. It also determines how much state funding the district will receive. As a growth district, he said, Avon Lake needs as many students counted as
Overall, the attendance rate is “really good,” Scott said, and these rules are mainly for a small percentage of students who struggle in getting to school. Relaxing the requirement will help everyone in the community, he said.
“It will be less stressful for the parents,” he said. “It will give a more accurate picture of enrollment and give the state a better picture of enrollment. We’re not having to chase notes and doctor’s notes for kids we know are just home with the flu.”
The Board of Education would have to approve this policy change, he said. It may appear for a first reading in May or June, he said, and then followed by a vote at the next meeting.