A new attendance policty awaits Ashe County High School (ACHS) students in the 2014-15 academic year.
The Ashe County Board of Education unanimously approved a new attendance policy for ACHS at the board’s regular meeting on Monday, April 8, at the Ashe Arts Council in West Jefferson.
“The high school has an attendance problem,” ACHS English teacher and chair of the school improvement team Josh Beckworth told the school board last month. “It’s not just about students missing days, but the way we handle it.”
At Monday night’s meeting, Beckworth brought forth a newly crafted policy for the board’s consideration.
“The policy right now is so restrictive as to be unworthy,” Beckworth said. “The open-ended nature of the recovery time permits a virtually unlimited number of absences, whereas this (the new policy) would make a very clear point at 10.”
Under the old policy, in order to receive a passing grade in a class, students were limited to five absences per semester. Those students who missed more than five days were permitted to make-up missed days by spending 90 minutes in the cafeteria during fifth period.
Last school year (2012-13), 350 students, out of 992 enrolled in the school system, missed over five days of school.
“I can still see those rooms filled with students,” board member and former English teacher in ACS Polly Jones said of the old system.
The new policy caps the number of absences at 10 per semester. After 10 absences, students will automatically fail the class unless they meet the criteria to appeal their case before a waiver committee.
“(After 10 absences) they fail, unless they are passing the class and sufficiently argue to a teacher-based waiver committee why they should receive credit,” Beckworth said.
Similar policies are already in place in Watauga, Wilkes and many other counties across the state.
While students are afforded more absences per semester, the new policy removes unlimited recovery time. Beckworth and others believe the cap and loss of recovery time will ultimately discourage students from missing classes.
“The whole goal of this is to cut down on absenses,” superintendent Dr. Todd Holden said.
“It’s been a nightmare in the past, I’m sure the administrators know that,” board member and former ACHS teacher Terry Williams said. “I’ve lived through it. Everybody’s trying to make up days at the last minute.”
ACHS Principal Jason Krider and Holden commended Beckworth and the school improvement team for all of the time and effort they put into researching and formulating a new policy.
“I want to applaud the high school school improvement team and administration for thinking outside the box and coming up with innovative ways to meet the needs of our students,” Holden said.
In other business, the board approved a budget request for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
ACS is requesting around $5 million from the county for 2014-15.
Holden and Associate Superintendent Phyllis Yates met last week with county manager Sam Yearick to discuss the budget request.
“He was receptive,” Holden said. “He was hoping it would be less.”
Holden said he was hoping it would be less too, but ACS is facing a loss of $309,491 (20 percent) in Small County funding, for 2015, as well as shortfalls in other areas.
The budget request includes the cost of repairs and improvements at all five schools, many of which have been needed for a long time.
According to Holden, Yearick said the figure was “a good start.”
The school system will learn in late June what it will receive from the county and state.
The board also approved new guidelines for out-of-state travel for teachers and staff, which had been prohibited by a previous board.
“There are some federal and state grants available for teachers to get a broader knowledge of ideas, other than just N.C. ideas,” Holden said.
The prohibition on out-of-state travel was instituted as a means of deflecting flack from folks in the greater community. Board members and school staff didn’t want to deal with instructors heading to conferences in Las Vegas or Hawaii.
Under the new rules:
• Travel cannot interrupt instruction time and must occur during summer or when school is not in session.
• Funding cannot come from state and federal funds designated as “standard operating.”
• Travel must be confined to the southeast U.S.
The next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5, at the Central Office Annex, in Jefferson.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.