The Block Island Times

A new approach to help seniors graduate

By Gloria S. Redlich | Oct 28, 2013

At its Oct. 21 meeting, the Block Island School Committee chiseled away at a full agenda that included graduation regulations, the standing of accounts, New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing, capital projects, appointments and the possibility of opening the school to offer off-season movies.

Superintendent Robert Hicks announced that the upcoming graduating class would be the first to be “tested according to [new]state regulations.” He also spoke about potential waivers for students who don’t do well on the state testing component.

As an example, if a student in Massachusetts is succeeding in math, but does not pass the state testing in that subject, other factors may be considered for the student's graduation eligibility. “If you agree with this kind of policy change, I’d say there would be two ways to implement it," Hicks said to the board.

He pointed out that “we can assess those students who might need alternatives ahead of time.” The second Hicks felt was that graduation should not be denied on the basis of a subjective analysis concluding a student had “not tried hard enough.”

In a memo to the board, Hicks described eligibility for waivers as “a process that shall be implemented for all members of the senior class who (1) are on track for completion of all graduation requirements other than the state assessment, and (2) have not received the necessary score for graduation on a state assessment.” Waivers are only granted for students who have shown “they have reached the required level of proficiency.”

The board voted to accept the language changes redefining the policy establishing criteria for high school proficiency-based graduation and to post it for 30 days. Member Annie Hall thought it “would be good for parents to see this.”

Electric rates eyed

Reviewing year-to-date figures, Hicks noted that the highest expense continues to be electrical costs, in which he projected that “we’ll likely be over.” He thought the overage might be in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 a month. He explained that it had been a “very hot summer” and electrical costs had gone 15 percent higher in July and 11 percent higher in August than last year.

Chair Bill Padien said, “We’ll keep an eye on that.”

Hicks suggested that if electrical costs could be kept down, monies might be re-directed to technology projects. He added that there was a growing demand for online courses, and he indicated that the school might be looking at a new server (Brigham Young University) which the school had tried when a student asked to take Chinese. The Brigham courses may prove more cost-effective.

Hicks pointed out that online courses were generally offered to seniors and that the school paid for two courses per student; he indicated although there was a student recently taking physics, 90 percent of these courses were for electives that the school was unable to offer.

When asked about retention in online classes, Hicks said in a four-year period there were only a small number of students who hadn’t finished the courses.

With NECAP science results in, Hicks reported that the island school came in ninth in the state. The tests were given to the fourth, eighth and eleventh grades, and Hicks was pleased to announce, “We’ve been in the top ten for the last three years.” He was especially gratified, he said that the eighth graders “did very well on the science exam.”

Hicks recommended and the board approved the following appointments: Tim Keane as junior high soccer head coach; Callum Crawford to be junior high soccer assistant coach; John Breunig as varsity soccer head coach and Kirk Littlefield as varsity soccer assistant coach.

Capital projects

Highlighting seven capital projects needing to be considered by the town, Hicks said of these only two would require town funding. “The others are for consideration from our reserve funds,” he said. Pointing out to the August meeting of the committee, Hicks referred to a plan that had been suggested to “designate all reserves in excess of the 3.5 percent of budget safety net for capital projects.”

With an audit still in progress, no “firm figure” has emerged on reserves, though Hicks anticipates between $75,000 and $80,000 to be available.

The capital projects and their anticpated costs are as follows: original building façade ($80,000 from town capital); solar panels ($400,000 from town capital); rubber membrane roof (approximately $74,300 from reserves); lift replacement ($30,000 from reserves); entry ($6,250 from a possible grant and storage units and drainage (costs unknown, from reserves). Without the last two items, the total for all projects is $590,550.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Empire Theater owner Gary Pollard made a request that the school board consider an arrangement whereby he could extend the movie season to the town through use of school facilities. Padien told him he must make a formal request in writing to the committee before the November meeting.

Hicks assured Pollard that there would be no problem in using the building, but that fee adjustments had to be worked out with the committee.

The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.

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