School Board talks final grades, plans for the future

Published 12:05 am Saturday, April 25, 2020

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RESERVE — Interim Superintendent Cory Butler and the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board have a massive challenge in unprecedented times to ensure equity and access in education.

During a Thursday evening Zoom video conference that lasted more than four hours, the School Board outlined plans for final marking period grading, approved a tentative 2020-2021 school calendar and explored options for expanding technology access with take home laptops for students.

For students in grades K-8, the final marking period grade will reflect the student’s highest grade from all previous marking periods. This will be used to average the student’s final grade for each course.

For non-graduating high schoolers in grades 9-11, the final grades will be calculated using the fifth and sixth marking periods. Butler said this decision aligns with most of the school districts in Louisiana.

“The students are not to blame for this pandemic,” Butler said. “We don’t want to penalize them because they weren’t physically in school.”

High school seniors and graduating juniors have been tasked with completing “senior projects” for core classes. Butler said these are not traditional senior projects typically completed in English IV classes and equated them to senior “assignments” that have seniors display knowledge through an oral or written presentation.

“Those assignments will be graded, transcripts will be finalized and diplomas will be certified,” Butler said earlier this week during a press conference with Parish President Jaclyn Hotard.

The number of projects a student must complete will vary by individual depending on the classes he or she is enrolled in. Dual enrollment classes will not have a senior project. More information is available on the district website.

During the School Board meeting, Board members reviewed a 30-day action plan and discussed preparations for the next school year. The immediate action plan included virtual learning support and a focus on improving communication.

This encompasses weekly principal meetings to convey Louisiana Department of Education information and district updates.

Board member Debbie Schum said there needs to be clarification on whether work will be required or optional when grades are going to be determined by averages.

“We need to make sure students understand the importance of continuous learning even if it’s not graded,” Schum said.

Schum added that the school district website should be streamlined to allow easier access to information. To help teachers and families communicate more efficiently, Schum suggested organized virtual office hours for teachers to be organized by subject matter and/or grade level.

Board member Nia Mitchell said that it may be difficult to define office hours with so many families experiencing medical emergencies and changes to daily routines.

“It’s hard to make a one size fits all approach in this pandemic,” she said.

Board members considered long term plans if schools cannot open in August. The tentative school calendar approved at Thursday’s meeting sets August 6 as the first day of school for students.

The calendar can be modified at any time pending new developments from the state, according to School Board President Patrick Sanders.

Mitchell stressed the importance of approving the calendar Thursday to provide structure to summer camp and summer school planning.

Access to technology is another consideration for the future. A survey was sent to students the week school was interrupted to gauge whether they had Internet access. Since that survey did not see participation from all students, a second survey was sent out recently.

School leaders are formulating a plan to extend laptops to all households for the fall. Schum questioned the practicality of giving the same laptops used by older students to small children in grades K-2. Board member Ali Burl responded that it is critical to provide a solid educational foundation in those lower grades. He added that the average first grader is more apt to handle technology than most adults.

To prepare for the eventual return to classroom learning, the School Board voted to have the Luster Group sanitize all school buildings and buses, as well as provide training to school employees to continue the sanitation process.