01/14/14 — Schools to end graduation projects

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Schools to end graduation projects

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 14, 2014 1:46 PM

The graduation project will no longer be required for high school students to receive a diploma from Wayne County Public Schools, after a 5-3 vote by the Wayne County Board of Education on Monday night.

Board Policy 3460, which contained the criteria for graduation, had been discussed last month but tabled until further review and put to a vote after a second reading at this month's meeting.

When the policy was presented for discussion, three options were mentioned -- continue the project, eliminate it, or, beginning in 2014-15, do away with it and give individual high schools the option to continue it.

The graduation project had been introduced across the state in 2006, but dropped four years later by the State Board of Education. A smattering of districts have retained the project, in various forms, board members said, with WCPS being among those keeping it in its original format.

Board member Arnold Flowers said he was in favor of eliminating the requirement, with the caveat that any students who have already begun doing the work would earn extra credit.

Board member Thelma Smith expressed concerns about the extra workload the project places on teachers and students, especially since the state had already reversed its position.

"All the new things they have to do this year as well as become accredited again, I would think that it would possibly be to their advantage to take whatever section it is where it says if the school wants to have a graduation project, have at it, OK? Have at it, but it would not be required by Wayne County Public Schools and let's see how many of those students are going to opt to do it," she said.

Rosewood High School Principal Dean Sauls was in the audience and was called upon to weigh in on the issue.

"I sometimes think that Rosewood is unique because they like the graduation project," he said, pointing out that the class size is smaller than most of the surrounding schools, with an average of 125 in each graduating class.

He said he has witnessed a sense of pride in students when they complete the project, adding that in the five years he has been at the school, "no one has failed it and they all finished it on time." He said that he would abide by the board's vote but noted that the students at his school had done well with the requirement.

Flowers said he would welcome the chance to hear from other principals in the district.

Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that at the five other traditional schools, consensus was to do away with the requirement but to finish out the rest of the school year as it is.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the majority of principals had expressed interest in abolishing the practice, but that is was up to the board to decide.

Board member Dr. Dwight Cannon said he had heard too many testimonials from students about the merits of the project and if the district truly believes in "excellence," it should continue requiring students to complete a graduation project.

Board Chairman John Grantham suggested that the school board gets very few chances to reduce the workload of teachers and this might provide such an opportunity.

"I don't think (the project) is useless," he said. "I just think it doesn't have enough value to take away the time they need to do other things.

"Personally, I would be in favor for ones already in the project, if they want to continue and get extra credit on it (let them). I don't think it should be a requirement, (and) not do away with it next semester or next year. Do away with it now."

Flowers made the motion to eliminate the project as a graduation requirement and allow those who have begun the process to continue and receive extra credit for the work.

Board member Rick Pridgen argued that such a move was not in line with the district's mission to be "setting rigorous graduation requirements" and students could not be expected to choose to do it if they didn't have to.

"Ask someone if they want collards or candy, they'll say candy," he said. "Give them the option not to do it, they'll take that."

Pridgen added that the notion left him unsettled.

"I'm disappointed in the board," he said. "I think it's a travesty to even think about doing away with it. Vote the way you want to. I know how I'm going to vote."

Grantham tempered the discussion, suggesting each concern expressed was "legitimate."

"You're not voting against education or for education," he said. "You're voting for how to get the best education for our children. Nobody should come away on either side saying, 'You're not for education.'"

The policy passed with five votes -- Flowers, Grantham, Mrs. Smith, Eddie Radford and Chris West. Cannon and Pridgen voted no.