With no discussion and after a three-hour long closed session, the board approved 3-0, with board members Dr. Lee Beckworth and Polly King abstaining, the restoration of the jobs of six teachers notified last month their annual contracts would not be renewed. Board chairman Charles King and board members C.B. Jones Jr. and Terry Williams voted yes.
The six teachers’ contracts are considered probationary, which means the positions must be re-evaluated and renewed by the board next year.
During the three-hour closed session, over a dozen school employees waited outside the board meeting room until the session was re-opened.
Prior to the closed session, the board approved a major change in two policies regarding excused absences and the make-up work required to complete a course of study at the high school and an alternative method to earn a diploma by lowering the number of credits needed for graduation.
Both policies were adopted, but will have a mandatory review of their effectiveness next summer.
The change in both policies is a attempt by the school system to reduce the number of students who drop out.
At Ashe County High School, a Graduation Intervention Team was assembled earlier this year with the mission of developing policies that would lower the school’s drop out rate.
The GIT proposed two policy changes - one, to cut by half the number of minutes a student would be required to get full credit for time missed due to an excused absence and two, offer select students a method to earn a diploma with the completion of 21 class credits instead of the full 28 required of most students.
Beckworth, who was cool to the idea of reducing the “seat time” for students who have excused absences from the full 90 minutes to 45 minutes when the policy was proposed last month, said during the meeting Monday night that a “valid argument” had been made for the change.
He said he hoped the change in the policy would reduce the number of drop outs by 50 percent. However, he added, “I want to see this examined,” which the board agreed to by amending the policy change to include it be re-evaluated next year.
The new policy will require students who miss school because of excused absences to make up class work within 10 days of the missed day.
When the change in graduation credit policy was introduced, Beckworth made it clear he did not support the change.
“I am adamantly against that,” he said.
Beckworth believes that by lowering the credits required, for select students, to earn a degree, “it will tarnish the 28 credit diploma (our students) strive to achieve…it sends the wrong message to the kids,” said Beckworth.
He added that students have other options for earning an equivalent high school diploma by either attending a local community college or by earning a GED.
Board member Williams said he supported the change, but wanted to see if lowering the credits would work and “see if a large number of students take advantage of it.”
Jones was “bothered” by the information supplied by the high school’s GIT that of the 28 students who had dropped out of school, three finished at a local community college and one earned a GED.
Polly King wanted to make sure the change in policy was not “widely publicized” so as to reduce the number of students who might use it to earn a diploma and she wanted to see the change reviewed next year.
Beckworth was not swayed by the arguments. He said the board needs to decide on whether the schools will teach skills necessary for graduates to compete for 21st century jobs or meet the needs of the students. “These ideas are not mutually exculsive,” he said.
The board then adopted the new policy with Beckworth voting no to the change.
The board also adopted a new transportation plan for the school bus routes.
The Post will offer a complete overview of the changes in the next edition.