PALMER — Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani continued to explain the process of public involvement that is ongoing around the draft changes to graduation requirements and secondary school scheduling. Prior to his Superintendent’s report, six members of the public spoke out against the changes to graduation requirements and scheduling.
“I don’t agree with the idea of increasing credit requirements on our current schedule. It may be easier to manage six classes rather than seven of them but decreasing the amount of classes we’re allowed to take while increasing the credit requirement doesn’t make sense to me. It puts a lot of pressure on students, especially those who aren’t academically advanced,” said CTHS sophomore Elliana Overstreet. “I’d hope that you make the right decision for us whatever it happens to be and as long as it’s for the students and for our community rather than our district statistics.”
Trani presented slides of the proposed changes to graduation requirements and scheduling after dispelling rumors that he believed were untrue and outlining the guiding principles to the graduation requirements, which included increased expectations for all students, support for learners not on track, preventing alternative schools from becoming ‘credit recovery factories’ and differentiated transcripts based on student interest, among others. Trani repeated “it’s all a draft” after answering each question from board members and included the word ‘draft’ in large red letters across most slides. After being chastised by members of the public for the perceived lack of communication with parents, Trani addressed the process by which the proposed changes were presented to small groups of administrative leadership within the school district.
“I don’t know that you can ever do enough communicating, I think it’s maybe impossible, but we really are making an effort to try to talk with as many people as we can. We’ve been calling them listening tours, all of the advice and the concerns that we’ve heard have definitely changed the product as it’s going on so I just hope people can be patient and let the process work itself out,” said Trani.
Trani noted the timeline of starting the process of addressing large leadership groups about graduation requirements and changes to the school day last fall and said that versions of graduation requirements that were not current had raised questions over social media posts without context.
“If we’re taking any of the choices away from kids, it’s the choice to fail. It’s also taking the choice away from adults, this is really what it is, of letting them fail. Like adults, it’s your problem to make sure they stay on track,” said Trai. “The only thing that we really don’t want you to do is nothing. We want you to do something. We want to help you prepare for that and so it’s about as individualized as kids can be.”
The draft of graduation requirements presented by Trani requires 25 credits and would add a class similar to the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge or Advanced Placement Seminar course as a class to be taken by sophomores, mainly. The six period class schedule would require students to take a “Credit, Community, Career and College Readiness” course at the end of school days. Monday through Thursdays would be three-period days with Fridays as six-period days. From the survey data presented by Trani, 66 percent of parents of students in 6th-12th grades said they strongly agreed that their “family has appreciated the flexibility of remote learning Fridays,” and another 57.2 percent of those parents agreed or strongly “Supports a hybrid Friday schedule where families of all secondary students in grades 6-12 who are on track are given the choice to attend a half day of in-person or at-home learning on Fridays. Trani addressed at length that the CCCC course would be individualized to each student based on their needs.
“It’s really a time when kids get to practice those skills that they’re going to use in real life of managing their own time with support from a mentor who is going to help them. If we don’t do something about his credit deficiency now, two, three years from now our current schools who help kids graduate when they are a senior are going to be overwhelmed. We have to do something now,” said Trani. “Don’t think of it as the same course over and over, it’s a differentiated course by kid.”
Trani said that the new six-period schedule would increase instructional time for students and at the same time increase teacher preparation time. Trani also said that the definition of postsecondary institution acceptance requirement for graduating seniors was incredibly broad and included a long list of postsecondary institutions students could gain acceptance to. Trani noted that while 20 percent of all survey respondents commented with concerns about hybrid learning Fridays, another 10 percent commented that they were in favor.
“The upshot of all of that is students get more instruction per year which it doesn’t feel right but it is, like the minutes are more instruction per year while simultaneously staff gets more prep time per year. It’s the ones that we’re always trying to get where it’s a win win in all directions,” said Trani. “What we’ve tried to do though is make sure that all kids are taking enough core courses that they can choose to do anything after they graduate.”
Trani said that the process would continue with tours of schools allowing any staff member to ask questions, which would be followed by Zoom sessions with parents in the coming months. School Board Member Dwight Probasco asked Trani to prepare statistics on the 8th graders that would be entering high school next year. Members Jeff Taylor and Ryan Ponder asked about parental choice to remove students for religious activities even if they were not “on track”
“We want parents to make those decisions and we’re standing ready to try to help every single kid graduate that we can get across the stage,” said Trani. “I hope the point is getting through that what we want you to do is we want to help you prepare to do something that you want to do, other than nothing. We don’t want you to not have a plan.”