12/04/13 — Board weighs cutting project

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Board weighs cutting project

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 4, 2013 1:46 PM

The Wayne County Board of Education plans to vote next month on whether or not to continue requiring students to complete a graduation project.

Board Policy 3460, spelling out requirements for high school students, was among policies presented for first reading at Monday night's board meeting.

It was pulled out separately for discussion, sparking debate about the merits of relaxing the requirement and focusing efforts on other priorities, like math and reading scores.

The graduation project, introduced statewide in 2006, was dropped nearly four years later by the state Board of Education. Wayne County Public Schools was among districts to keep it as part of the requirement to obtain a high school diploma.

"It's not that it doesn't have any value. I would never suggest that for a minute," Board Chairman John P. Grantham said.

He said he didn't believe the project has the same value as some other tasks imposed on educators, suggesting that the Department of Public Instruction "realized the error of their ways and they deleted it as a graduation requirement."

Considering the amount of time and work it takes, he would recommend the board vote to discontinue it.

Board member Dr. Dwight Cannon had an opposing view. He said he has spoken with college students who credited the projects with instilling research skills needed at college.

"I'm for the graduation project and I will fight, one vote, but I will fight vehemently for it," he said. "I do not think we ought to do away with it."

Board member Thelma Smith said she respectfully disagreed with Cannon. Since the state is no longer mandating it, she said the board should weigh shelving the projects to make way for other requirements schools and the district have no choice about, such as accreditation.

Board member Eddie Radford said there is no doubt there are pros and cons to the issue -- some students benefit from the experience while others do it because they have to -- but added that he had been approached by educators asking how they can get out of it. He said teachers have to put in extra time, giving up free periods and planning periods, to assist students with the projects.

"Although there's some good things in there, we need to look at it as a whole and come up with something we can all agree on," he said. "The way things are going with testing, we certainly need to look at helping these teachers."

Board member Rick Pridgen agreed with Cannon, saying the projects make a difference to students who take it seriously.

"I see the value. I see kids making career decisions as a result of it," he said. "I see it only as an asset to the students, in a world where we're trying to be more globally competitive and raising the standards for students who are competing with other countries, anything that you can arm them with so that they're far better prepared when they get away from us."

Principals' input was also sought, with some saying the project "encumbers their teachers," vice chairman Chris West said. Perhaps a trade-off would be to drop the time-consuming graduation project and instead incorporate some of the research skills into other classes.

"I just think we should listen to (principals)," he said. "We have to depend on what they say. Nobody better knows than a principal or a teacher what they encounter every day."

Mrs. Smith said the school system shouldn't force students to do a graduation project.

"I never thought they should not do the project if they wanted to, but I certainly think they ought to have a choice," she said.

With that, she made a motion to do away with requiring the graduation project and asked for it to be put to a vote.

Since it was the first reading of the policy, however, Grantham asked the board's attorney, Jack Edwards, if it was appropriate to vote on it.

"The graduation project is part of that policy," Edwards replied. "It's not under here for action."

Normally, he explained, any action to remove a policy is done at the second reading.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said when he met with school principals, it produced a "mixed bag" of responses -- some favoring taking the project out, others hoping to continue it for the rest of the school year -- but most agreed about the importance of retaining two components, research and presentation.

"Would the board entertain a compromise if a school wanted to continue it?" he asked. "In the end, it's your call."

"I think that's fair," Cannon said. "I agree that the principals and teachers are very important. But let us not forget to hear the students. Let us also consider what the children are saying."