JSD board tweaks grad requirements

Proposal keeps 23-credit requirement, but would offer more flexibility in how students hit that mark

The Juneau School District graduation requirements adjustments are shaping to be less restrictive than initially proposed.

The Board of Education met Thursday night to continue its discussion on the proposal, which increases required credits from 21.5 to 23.

Board members favored the 23 credit requirement, but have been struggling with the categories each should go to. The Graduation Taskforce recommended three credits of math, three credits of science and a fourth of either, one credit of world language, a reduction in physical education and reduction in world of work. Electives were initial cut from 6.5 credits to 3.5, but were brought back up to 5. Based upon feedback, board members favored only three credits of math and science each, and keeping the world language/fine arts credit combined as one credit.

Board member Ed Flannigan said he wanted to see 6.5 credits of electives stay.

The proposal initial cut the half credit of fitness concepts (which counts as P.E.). The state minimum requirements of one P.E. credit and .5 health credit remain.

What the proposal with those potential board changes means from the current requirements to the 2015 graduates requirements is an additional credit in math, science and .5 credit reduction in physical education.

Board member Barbara Thurston proposed a larger independent study plan for P.E. for all high school students. She wanted to see a student able to take independent study for all P.E. credits any year. Currently, only juniors and seniors may use independent study to satisfy half of their one credit requirement.

Juneau-Douglas High School Activities Director Sandi Wagner said she had seen Thurston’s proposal and said the problem is that they don’t give credit for simply participating in open gym, for example. They feel that students should be doing that anyway — having active lifestyles. The piece that’s missing is having a certified mentor to give the educational piece of physical activity. Students also are required to write a “full-blown” research paper. Wagner said the reason why JDHS implemented the upperclassman rule is because underclassmen weren’t prepared enough to write an in-depth research paper.

Wagner said one of the problems with participation isn’t that some students refuse to “dress down” for P.E. — it’s the staff can literally not get some students to move and participate. She said students can still participate even if they refuse to change clothing. Wagner said the biggest reason for that issue is that in middle school, students can go three years without any P.E.

The board and JDHS Principal Ryan Alsup questioned a full-blown independent study option for P.E, on what effect that would have on staffing and could technically work.

Alsup said one thing the board needed to be aware of is that with the increase in the Pupil-to-Teacher ratio, the increase in independent study would mean fewer electives for all students. P.E. classes, most of which are electives, can have more than 28 students in them, whereas a woods elective course likely can’t have more than 24. By losing that balance, it will decrease elective options.

He said that increasing the number of credits required in certain areas also has that affect. Flannigan said he didn’t really see a huge impact with increasing math and science by one each, since 64 percent of the 2010 class took more than two math credits and 79 percent completed more than two science courses.

Wagner also advocated for the fitness concepts course, saying that it’s the most rigorous physical education course they have and many students take it twice by choice. She said that course lays out a wide array of physical activities to gain the lifelong interest of students, and addresses core fitness concepts.

Board members ultimately favored adding back the half credit course.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said it’s hard to even consider cutting back on physical education given the data and trends nationwide showing a sharp rise in obesity.

Board member Andi Story said she would like to get figures on what it would cost to have a full-time P.E. teacher in the elementary schools and increase physical education at the middle schools. She said they need to look at their physical education model in the middle schools and start changing that.

Over the course of several board discussions on the increase in requirements, several mentioned this being a beginning step.

Alsup said as they continue to increase requirements, they should also consider increasing the number of periods. Currently, the high schools have six periods, with a zero hour and seventh hour option. He said there are many districts that have a minimum requirement of seven periods, though he isn’t sure exactly how many in Alaska have more. Alsup said if students have more time to take more courses, increasing requirements will still give them the elective options they need to focus on a specific area of interest.

The board also touched on math and science. Thurston said they’ve heard over and over it isn’t necessarily that students need to be taking higher level math than algebra and geometry, but that they master those math skills and have some form of math every year. Thurston proposed having a requirement that a student needs a math credit in their senior year, but what that credit is can be flexible. She suggested coming up with a list of math-related courses — engineering, accounting, economics, etc. — where they would still use their math skills.

Gelbrich felt that kind of implementation would need more time as it would require extensive work with the curriculum or else it would act and feel “wishy-washy.”

The board will meet again April 25 and 26 and will have its final reading of the proposed changes.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.


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