PALMER —Just a week after an old draft of plans to change graduation requirements and daily schedules of students in the Mat-Su Borough School District was released online, MSBSD Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani tried to explain the process and the impetus for distributing a survey to nearly 1,600 Valley parents which closed this week.
The changes Trani is discussing to graduation requirements and scheduling for middle and high school students have been in his administrative reports for months, but caught many parents off guard last week.
“There are many changes on this draft proposal for graduation requirements and the preceding survey uses language that appears to have an intent to support these changes in grad requirements without being clear as to what survey takers are supporting,” said Lisa Thomas. “If you want opinions of people, ask very open and clear questions on what they want, not questions that drive your opinions.”
Trani said that the push for the survey to discuss changes to graduation requirements and scheduling was driven by academic success. Over the last 11 months of remote learning, blended learning, and in-person instruction in schools all across the Valley, Trani said that the district has learned a great deal and plans to incorporate aspects of remote learning and different pathways of education into typical graduation requirements.
“It really just was unfortunate that this old draft got published early and it kind of disrupted our plan for communication,” said Trani. “That’s really the main driver here, academic success. When you all hired me you wanted me to focus on student achievement and that’s the underlying drive for increasing graduation requirements.”
Trani detailed the survey and possible implementation of plans that would encourage both acceleration and career and technical education for all students. Trani stressed that the changes would not allow for a decrease in instruction time and options would be made available for families to have their students offered instruction in a variety of ways.
“We need to expect a lot of our kids and we need to support our kids, all of them,” said Trani. “We know that for some families beyond just instruction, we serve a role of like caring for their students on Fridays. So we have always been looking at options for how can we offer some sort of support to families for the full five days while simultaneously allowing other families who don’t need that support and want some release time for their students to enjoy that but it’s a balancing act.”
Trani said that of about 2,200 responses total to various surveys sent out, 87 percent of 8th grade parents strongly agree that students who are on track to graduate should have the ability to explore off campus or community experiences appropriate for their age group. Trani also reiterated that the change in requirements was still a work in progress, but noted that the timeline for schedule changes must be much shorter than the timeline to complete changes to graduation requirements.
“There’s going to be several feedback loops that continue for a while,” said Trani. “We’re actually increasing choice not decreasing choice, it’s just the choice that we’re decreasing is we’re taking away the choice to fail. We don’t want you to fail. We don’t want to give you that choice.”
Among other trends detected from survey takers, nearly two thirds of all parents of students from 6th-12th grades feel that their family appreciate the flexibility of remote learning. Another 57.2 percent of those parents support a friday schedule where on-track students are allowed to pursue at home learning days on Friday.
“Some people are getting upset because of misinformation and filling in the blanks and so hopefully today we can relieve some of the anxiety around an old version that’s been published. It doesn’t even represent the current thinking. In fact part of the survey is changing more of our thinking around graduation requirements,” said Trani.
“Teachers and administration think that maybe it isn’t appropriate for the younger students to have that option and some of the schedules have that we’ve looked at some of the drafts have included a component where the younger students would stay longer.”