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Ladies and gentlemen, the (mostly) graduating class of 2008

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

High school graduations have reputations for being long and drawn out, but the debate on who should be allowed to participate in them is taking even longer.

The Central Kitsap School District is currently trying to find common ground on the issue of whether or not seniors who have not met certain graduation requirements should be allowed to walk at June commencement ceremonies.

The issue most recently reared its head during a school board study session Wednesday night, but is still far from being settled.

Katharine Gleysteen, CKSD executive director of secondary teaching and learning, put forward a plan that would allow students who completed portions of the current grad requirements (see gray box) to walk at this year’s commencement ceremonies.

The plan has the approval of Superintendent Greg Lynch and all of CKSD’s high school and secondary school principals, Greysteen said.

“We think that this should be a one-time exception,” she said. “The (graduation) program almost always has students who didn’t make it.”

That recommendation has board members divided over how non-grads should be treated in the context of commencement ceremonies.

The debate finds its origin in the fact that this year’s graduating class is facing grad requirements that have been increased and altered from years past.

Specifically added to the list of grad requirements for this year is an extra half credit in fine arts study, a culminating project, a high school and beyond plan and passage of the reading and writing portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

The changes are statewide and CKSD is not the only district dealing with them.

“Everyone in the state is going through struggles right now,” Gleysteen said.

Further complicating matters for CKSD is Procedure 2410P, a district board policy stating that students have to meet grad requirements to participate in graduation ceremonies. It sounds cut and dry enough, but it does allow for exceptions.

“Principals may waive graduation requirements provided that ‘minimum state course and credit requirements are met and the student passes a full schedule of classes as a senior,’” according to a presentation by Gleysteen at Wednesday’s meeting.

Another exception, Kevin’s Law, RCW 28A.155.170, provides special education students with the opportunity to walk at commencement ceremonies. The only caveats are that the student is enrolled in a individualized education program and that he or she will continue in such a program between the ages of 18 and 21.

Kevin’s Law trumps school district policy, however, meaning that the current debate is geared toward the more than 200 students currently lagging in grad requirements.

The board first broached the issue of whether to let such students walk more than a month ago at a Feb. 13 meeting.

Board members Chris Stokke and Christy Cathcart clashed at that meeting in a rare display of adamant disagreement. Stokke argued in favor of an exception, while Cathcart said grad requirements should remain strict.

The argument revealed the fissures in the district, in regard to the issue, that reappeared on Wednesday.

Stokke again stated his opposition to an absolutist viewpoint, suggesting the district didn’t do enough to inform students at risk of not graduating of the requirement changes.

Julie Goldsmith, CKSD executive director for curriculum and instruction, took issue with that.

“Not that it’s perfect, but ... we’ve been (making) a pretty good effort to get that notification to parents,” she said, adding that the Class of 2008 has been notified of grad requirements every year since the eighth grade.

Board member Bruce Richards worried that making a one-year exception could come back to bite the district, if the state changed grad requirements again next year.

Board member Lee Ann Powers raised concern that the district could regret making a decision that didn’t allow exceptions.

“This has been a moving target,” she said of grad requirements over the years. “I would hate ... for us to look back on this year and say, ‘wow, that was really not fair.’”

Chiming in with some positive news to temper the debate, Lynch offered an optimistic outlook for struggling students.

“The principals know — by name — the students that are struggling,” he said. “We’ve got a focus on the students of 2008 that we’ve never had before.

“I really think we’re on a good course.”

The debate will continue indefinitely, Gleysteen said after Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Also discussed at the March 12 school board study session and meeting:

• The CKSD school board approved the hiring of two new principals at Wednesday night’s board meeting.

Paul Nash, currently an elementary principal in the Clover Park School District, will replace Jane Chapin at Cottonwood Elementary School. Chapin will retire at the end of the school year.

Peggy Ellis, currently an elementary principal in the Oak Harbor School District, will replace Jody Scott, the interim principal at Silverdale Elementary School. Scott’s term ends at the end of this school year.

• Jeanne Beckon, CKSD executive director of human resources, made a recommendation to the board for cuts to the district’s music program during the study session. The plan would allow fifth-graders to have band and strings practice five days a week for 30 minutes, but would cut sixth-grade band and strings back to two days a week for 40 minutes.

The recommendation was the mildest of three options presented and could save the district as much as $15,000.

• Goldsmith and Janet Harris, CKSD director of information services, presented several recommendations for the redistribution of computers in the district during the study session. The recommendations would call for a student-to-computer ratio of 3.7 to 1 for high schools, 4 to 1 for junior highs and 4 to 1 for grades K-6, as well as new standards for staff-to-computer ratios.

The idea of redistribution is being debated as a means to increase equity of computers in district schools.

The plan also could save the district money in the long run, Harris said.

Graduation ceremony inclusion

Current graduation requirements for the Class of 2008

• 22 credits completed (three years of math, one of which must be in senior year, or meet WASL math standard with two years of math)

• Completed high school and beyond plan

• Completed culminating project

• WASL standards for reading and writing met

Proposed exceptions to current graduation requirements

• 22 credits completed (and at least one math credit for 2007-08 school year)

• Completed high school and beyond plan

• Completed culminating project

• Submitted collection of evidence if student did not meet WASL standards in reading and/or writing and/or math

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