Photo courtesy of SMSD
The SMSD board meeting on Aug. 15 introduced three major policy changes for the 2016-2017 school year: discontinuing the ability to waive non-AP finals, switching seminar’s hour and requiring documentation for absences after 10 missed days.
Traditionally, seniors have the option to waive finals in the spring. This year, excluding AP classes, the District is not allowing seniors to waive a final. Principal John McKinney describes this change as an opportunity for students to show w
“[Students] should be taking a summative assessment at the end of the year,” McKinney said. “Not only for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned, but for teachers to see how well they’ve taught the curriculum.”
Senior Bennet Hense had planned to waive most of his finals like his friends and cousins did at East years before. But because of the District’s ruling, he won’t have that option.
“I think if you’ve proven yourself with an A, it doesn’t seem right to potentially jeopardize that grade you’ve worked hard for,” Hense said. “It’s putting more stress on your senior year.”
Regardless of seniors being up in arms, McKinney stands behind the board’s decision, along with the decision to line up each SMSD school’s schedules.
Not all SMSD schools ran on the same schedule in years past. While East’s even block schedule was seminar, second hour, fourth hour, sixth hour, South’s was second hour, seminar, fourth hour, sixth hour.
Because of this, problems arose for students who would travel to a different building for classes their school did not offer, like Broadmoor for culinary class or SM North for biotechnology. Some students would be forced to miss core classes while others would miss seminar.
In an effort to prevent students from missing important classes, all SMSD even block days will align to second hour, seminar, fourth hour, sixth hour.
“The goal of aligning schedules district-wide is to ensure that students participating in classes and activities in other buildings will be able to continue to do so with minimal disruption to their homeschool schedule,” McKinney said.
This new schedule, McKinney said, will hopefully set up SMSD for another schedule change. In the works for the spring is a plan to make every Thursday block an early release.
Staff would meet from 7:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. to talk with their Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs. PLCs are groups of teachers within education branches, who will use this time to discuss curriculum and compare teaching strategies.
“[PLC time] is fixed, focused time for teachers to plan, develop common formative and summative assessments, analyze data, and collaborate on lessons, activities, assessments, projects, etc.” McKinney said.
For non-travelling students like senior Hailey Mohr, seminar’s switch from the first period of the day to second period means an hour and half less time to sleep. Mohr explained that she, and often other students, used seminar as a way to sleep in without missing an actual class.
“I think the fact that it’s an unexcused [absence] if you skip seminar is dumb,” Mohr said. “Especially for seniors when they could be in a class or they could be sleeping.”
Because students will be in class rather than bed, students will participate in a different 15-minute activity led by Link leaders at the beginning of each seminar. Link Crew sponsor and math teacher Hannah Pence explained that the seminar change will ensure maximum participation for these activities.
“I think [Link leaders] will have a better presence,” Pence said. “Ideally more students will be there, more Link leaders will be there and hopefully more people will be into it.”
In the past, parents could call the attendance center and excuse their child of an absence, like sleeping through seminar. The board’s new decision, however, requires that after 10 absences, documentation be provided for any absence thereafter.
“We’re just holding people responsible for their actions,” associate principal Britton Haney said. “If you’re going to miss class, you’re going to have to have documentation.”
For example, Haney said, if a student is ill or has a doctor’s recommendation to stay home, they would need to provide a doctor’s note. In the case that a family issue should arise, a parent’s note would excuse the student.
Last year, if a student had more than five unexcused absences, a 59.6 percent was the highest grade the student could receive in the class. Because the board believes there should not be a correlation between attendance and grades, that policy was terminated.
“Your attendance should not have an effect on your grade,” Haney said. “If you can miss 18 class periods and still get an A, then maybe it’s the class that needs to look at what’s going on.”
All of the District’s changes are, according to McKinney, in expectations to ensure that all students, regardless of where one lives or goes to school, are treated fairly, equitably and have access to the same educational opportunities and experiences.