LIVERMORE — Thursday night, April 8, directors of Spruce Mountain Regional School Unit 73 approved the first reading of  amendments to Placement Policy IKE that would make more students eligible for summer school.

Changes include lowering the passing grade from 50 to 30 for eligibility; removing the stipulation that students with 30 or more absences are not eligible for summer school while making summer school mandatory for students failing at least one core class when they have missed 30 days, and students with two or more failing grades must attend summer school if eligible. For students in kindergarten through grade five, two or more ‘Does Not Meet’ will serve as referral to the Placement Committee. The Committee may assign students to the next grade level if they fail only one class.

The policy is for students in kindergarten through grade eight. A separate policy covers high school students.

While reviewing the last trimester grades to tally how many of the 350 students at Spruce Mountain Middle School in Jay were failing at least one class, principal Carolyn Luce got through the first 162 and realized that it wasn’t a feasible list.

“I went back and looked at students failing two or more classes, found 89 students,” she said. “That was a more manageable number to work with. Each community in the school has somewhere between 12 and 20 students failing two or more classes.”

There’s not a lot of hope for these kids to remediate their grades, she said when asking for the lower grade standard. Most of those failing have a range of 30 for their classes, she noted.

“We’ve got kids at home trying to teach themselves,” Luce said. “The enormity of the need requires us to do something more.”

Flexibility on school absences was also requested.

“We have kids who aren’t tuning in on their remote days, are at school (for in-class learning),” Luce said. “Those absences can be a little misleading.”

At Spruce Mountain Elementary School in Jay, there were 57 students receiving two “Does Not Meet (Standard)” in two areas of their report cards, Principal Pat St. Clair said.

“Between tutoring and summer school, it’s realistic we could get these kids up to speed in the time frame we have,” he said.

Kids are resilient, there’s a chance some will catch themselves up, St. Clair said when asked if that were possible. A new program has been allowing some students to attend school on remote days for tutoring, he had told the board earlier.

“I’ve had conversations with the parents, kids know what’s on the table,” St. Clair said. “If I can get more kids in, as hard as I’ve seen those kids work, I could definitely see some get the help they need and catch up.

“I don’t want to hold these kids accountable for when they go home and don’t have the support they need,” he said. “I’d hate to hammer a kid who we know if they were in school five days this wouldn’t be a topic of discussion.”

The district has a policy stating first and second readings on policy changes must be made no more than two weeks and less than eight days apart.

“The only way to get around it is for an emergency waiver,” Director Michael Morrell said. “I’m hesitant to do that, like the first and second reading to give time to read the language.”

Getting the policy done as soon as possible was requested by Luce. She said there wasn’t time to reach out to all the families of those in danger of being retained in their current grade if the changes weren’t approved.

“By policy, we have to make it a first reading,” Director Joel Pike said. “I know time is of the essence. I do not see anywhere in policy that gives us flexibility to go outside of our timing right now.”

Some directors spoke of their desire not to act on an item the first time it is presented to the board. Others addressed the quick way it was being presented. The policy committee did not discuss the issue at their meeting earlier this week because of a misunderstanding on what was being requested.

The meeting agenda referred to a waiver for the policy in this school year.

Some directors thought the waiver was to be requested of the state because of COVID-19.

“I hadn’t pulled out the packet until after the policy meeting earlier in the week,” Pike said. “It just created a lot of confusion. We didn’t discuss it.”

Staff at Spruce Mountain Primary School are looking at numbers too, Principal Kevin Harrington said.

For that school, support at home and technology have been factors, he said. While numbers have not been tallied, there are a few students per class across the board with some issues, he noted.

“Penalizing the child for something beyond their control is what we keep wrestling with,” Harrington said.

The middle school principal goes through the grades once they are completed following the second trimester, teacher Julie Taylor said.

“Our principal looks through every report card, that’s what is used to make this data,” Taylor said. “We had to have at least two trimesters of data to see where they are, could they catch up, get them to a passing range. In a normal year, the end of April is the normal start time for the placement committee to meet.”

There are about 20 students at the middle school needing summer school in a normal year, she said.

Going through the district’s first and second reading policy would allow administrators to begin the process for students currently meeting the guidelines, Director Lynn Ouellette suggested. Once the policy was amended, the remaining students could be considered, she said.

“I like your thinking,” Director Elaine Fitzgerald said.

The administrators agreed that would work.

The Policy Committee will meet prior to the next board meeting on April 29 to consider the Placement Policy. Additional changes can be made provided board members have the opportunity to review them prior to the second reading vote.

In other business, a reminder was given of the 6 p.m. April 15 meeting on the district’s budget proposal. Attendance will be via Zoom and the link will be available on the district’s website.



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