The Elkin City Schools Board of Education voted April 15 to create a new graduation path for “at risk” students who are experiencing difficulty meeting the current 28 credit requirement for graduation.
The new 22 credit hour requirement was first proposed by Elkin High Principal Joel Hoyle and then approved by a unanimous vote of the ECS Board of Education at its monthly meeting April 15. It will take effect for the graduating class beginning in the fall of 2013.
Hoyle said the idea for the diploma had been in the discussion stages since he came to Elkin High last summer. Hoyle and Superintendent Randy Bledsoe discussed the option and decided it was a good move for the high school to reduce the number of drop outs.
“Of course we don’t have many dropouts at Elkin City Schools; we have very few. We have one of the highest graduation rates in the state, but when you are in a system our size and a school our size every single student does matter. Every single drop out matters.”
Hoyle said the goal should be a 100 percent graduation rate.
Hoyle said the 22 credit path is not a shortcut for students to graduate early or for those students trying to avoid difficult classes. Students are required to pass all core classes, but do not have to take six additional electives.
Students must meet at least two of several criteria to be applicable:
• Continued attendance or truancy issues
• Chronic behavior problems
• Academic/ credit deficiencies
• Previous drop-out, or planning to drop out
• Failed at least one grade
• Have environmental, physiological and/or psychological challenges, such as chronic substance abuse, depression, teen pregnancy, parental responsibilities, socially delayed, anger management problems, judicial problems, or homelessness
Students and parents are involved in the process but do not approach the school to request that the student begin the graduation path. A referral either by a teacher, guidance counselor, or the principal is necessary to begin, followed by approval by a school-based committee.
The committee would be appointed by the principal to determine eligibility and to screen all requests for a general diploma. The team would consist of the principal or designee, a school counselor, the requesting student’s counselor, and a teacher representative.
Parents would then have to give permission for their son or daughter to participate. Parents must sign an agreement and be involved in the process for their children to be part of the program.
The principal would approve the recommendation, then that approval would have to be approved by the superintendent.
Hoyle explained to the board that this was not a casual thing and would likely not be used every year. He said the pathway would be used only in extraordinary cases in which a student was likely to drop out or flunk out and would not be able to earn their high school diploma.
Students have the misconception that they can drop out now and earn their G.E.D. later, but Hoyle said a G.E.D. does not replace the need for a high school diploma. The ability to earn a high school degree also saves the student money by helping them avoid paying for a community college G.E.D.
Students who do meet the criteria for the pathway would still complete the required ECS graduation project. In addition, the students would have to meet other requirements set by the principal and school committee.
Potential candidates must be 17 years old or older. Students must be enrolled for at least one full academic year before they can be considered. Their transcript, discipline record, and attendance record would need to be evaluated also.
Students must have received appropriate interventions to address their risk factors for academic failure, including a Personal Education Plan, prior to being considered. Students would also need to complete a graduation plan with their family and a guidance counselor to proceed.
A student would not be locked in to the program if they were able to overcome their obstacles. The student could continue and earn their full 28 credit degree if their circumstances allowed.
The 22 credit diploma, as it would be called, meets all requirements set forth by the state of North Carolina.
Students must take: English I-IV (4 credits); mathematics, including Algebra 1 and Geometry (4 credits); science including biology, a physical science, and an environmental science (3 credits); social studies including world history, civics and economics, and US history (4 credits); health and physical fitness (1 credit); elective concentration classes (4 credits); and other electives (2 credits).
Hoyle said that students would not “choose” the pathway for themselves, and that all students entering the ninth grade would still be expected to graduate with 28 credit hours.
The diploma would deter students from trying to graduate early and move on to college by not transferring credits to a four-year university. The diploma would transfer to a community college and would meet requirements set by the military.
Further roadblocks to early graduation are in the diploma’s list of procedures, which expressly states “students may not graduate ahead of their original 9th grade class.” Students must also be in at least their fourth year of high school to graduate.
Several school systems in North Carolina already operate on this 22 credit structure. Hoyle said Durham, Orange, Burke, Franklin, Avery, and others use this diploma, and that he helped develop Elkin’s based on their models.
The diploma is meant to “save” students who would otherwise most likely drop out, Hoyle said. It also provides a way for students who are approaching the 21 year old cut off for high school to graduate before they lose the opportunity forever.
“I think we need to do everything we can to remove those obstacles and to give every kid a chance to graduate,” Hoyle said.
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