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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

School board weighs idea of adding pass/fail option for upper-level classes

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Action considered in order to help encourage more students to take collegiate classes in future years.

Members of the Alta School Board listened to input from students Monday night at the monthly school board meeting regarding an idea to include a pass/fail option on some advanced level courses in an attempt to boost the number of students in those classes.

While no action was taken on the proposal Monday night, the board did hear several positive comments on the idea from students who were present as part of a government class requirement.

Alta Superintendent Fred Maharry said the concept was being discussed as part of a broad plan to try to encourage students to take more difficult courses to help them better prepare for the post-secondary education options they may choose to take in the future.

"We want the top students to take top classes so they can know that they can come out of here and go places," Maharry said. "We want students to come out of here prepared."

"The idea is to encourage people to take classes like calculus or physics that normally wouldn't because they would be scared of having a bad grade," board member Rich Marshall said. "We want more students to take more of those types of classes."

Students said more students would be inclined to try those types of classes, such as advanced placement course, with a pass/fail system, especially since that route would not affect the grade point averages of those students.

They also said a dual credit option, which would allow the students to receive credit for high school and college, would also be attractive.

"If there was a dual credit system, then I think more would try taking them for sure," senior Greta Lichtenberg said. "I also think the pass/fail option would encourage some kids who might not have wanted to take those classes to take them."

Maharry said the pass/fail option could also make a difference on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT.

The tests stress information learned in several upper-level courses which some students might be missing out on, leading to lower scores.

"If students shy away from tougher math and science classes, for example, then they can be at a real disadvantage when it comes to things such as the ACT," Maharry said. "That's another reason why we want more students to take those types of courses."

A date for any action on the proposal has not yet been set, but board members felt the positive response from the students was an encouraging sign in favor of the concept.

The school board also passed a motion to ask the state department of education to permit the district to have the option to levy property taxes in the future to help pay for a deficit of $79,000 taken from the general fund for the budget of special education programs.

The motion does not mean that property taxes will be levied; it simply means the school board will have the option to do so if the situation arises in the future.

The levy would only cover approximately 10 to 15 percent of the deficit, but Maharry said it would be one way to help the situation somewhat.

"This is kind of an insurance policy right now," Maharry said. "This would give us a way to fill a hole. It would only fill a little bit of the problem, but it would give us a way to go after a little bit of money if it is advantageous to the school district."

The motion comes at a time when the Alta School District budget for next year will be affected by both lowered enrollment and a high probability of statewide reductions in education spending.

The district experienced a drop of 36 enrolled students from last year, and each student lost is equivalent to approximately $4,400 in state aid.

Therefore, the district will have $158,000 less to spend for next year's budget, and Maharry told the school board that they would need to focus on ways to work around that in the coming months.

"We'll have to make reductions somewhere," Maharry said. "What we have to figure out is what areas we cut will be least harmful to students. We don't want to cut anything that will be harmful to our students in the future."

The board also heard from custodian Pam Henderson, who attended a conference of the Iowa Association of Building and Maintenance Engineers over the summer.

Henderson, who is on the board of the organization, said she took several OSHA, electrical and boiler classes during the convention.

She also reported the high school would need to seriously address the overall fire system of the high school building, or the school could be closed in the future.

"Our fire system needs to be updated, because it is inadequate and has been for some time," Henderson said. "We need new smoke detectors and a new alarm system, and if we don't comply, the school could be shut down. I learned there have been schools that have been shut down because they have not complied with fire code regulations."

The next scheduled school board meeting will be Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Members of the public are invited to attend.

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