By Karen Hall
School board members congratulated the valedictorians and salutatorians of all three high schools at their May meeting last week. They also applauded the recipient of an award that isn't given every year - the one for perfect attendance. Zach Ray, of Chapel Hill, has never missed a day of school. Schools director Jackie Abernathy calculated this means he has spent 2,340 days, or 17,550 hours, in school. Ray has also spent time on the playing fields, making significant contributions to Rocket football and basketball.
The valedictorians and salutatorians honored were Laiken Spivey and Ashley Warren from Cornersville, Rachel Whaley and Paten Pruitt from Forrest, and Brooke Morton and Justin Killian from Marshall County High School.
On a serious note, board members unanimously approved policies recommended by the director and the policy committee. These included the dress code for the next school year, and policies on promotion and retention.
"With the accountability growing daily for teachers, principals, and education in general, we need a basis for retention," Abernathy wrote in an e-mail. An administrative procedure outlines in detail the requirements for promotion or retention, stating that for grades K-6, "the final decision ...will be determined by the principal based on the criteria listed for each grade level." In middle school, students must pass all five academic areas to be promoted, though if they are failing in just two, there is a chance to make up the work in summer school.
An addition to the testing policy was also approved. As Abernathy explained, "the testing policy that we had did not address those students who are absent during the tests. By law, 15 percent of the students' second-semester grade is based on the TCAP scores. This is the first year for this. The state recommends a zero for those with an unexcused absence ... however, we had nothing to address those children who were absent for a good reason." Now the policy states that the director of schools can determine on a case-by-case basis "if there are extraordinary circumstances which warrant a summative test be given at grade level on the tested areas."
Attendance policies were also modified, specifying that if an elementary student has a total of 17 absences in one year, they are not eligible for promotion to the next grade. Principals are given the discretion to modify this, again on a case-by-case basis. High school students are given more opportunity to make up work missed due to an unexcused absence.
School board members met for less than one hour.
"Hopefully, all of our meetings will be without arguments and long discussions," Abernathy wrote. "This makes for a much better meeting, and I am pleased that the board members and I are on the same page - moving forward to do what is best for all of our children."