Schools await word on changes

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State to decide on new requirements for graduation

A decision from the State Board of Education on revisions to high school graduation requirements is expected to be handed down this month, and Denton school district staff members are working to make sure they — and students and parents — are ready.

The district formed a “think tank” in October, made up of district counselors, administrators and curriculum specialists, to study the new requirements currently before the state board, said Vicky Christenson, director of secondary curriculum, instruction and staff development for the Denton district.

The district will offer a meeting Jan. 27 at its high schools for parents of students starting ninth grade next fall, the first group to be affected by the changes. Beginning Feb. 3, high school counselors will go to middle school campuses to work with incoming freshmen on registering for classes, Christenson said.

Denton school board members are slated to discuss the district’s high school course catalog Jan. 21, and public comments can be submitted to the state through Jan. 28.

The new graduation requirements, which are set to take effect this fall, were passed by the state Legislature last year and signed by Gov. Rick Perry in June. They will affect students entering ninth grade during the 2014-15 school year.

“After thoroughly examining the new rules, we developed a number of documents for parents and students to use to guide them through the process of developing a four-year high school plan under the new requirements,” Christenson wrote in an e-mail. “These documents are currently in draft form waiting on the final vote by the SBOE in January with regard to certain details as they pertain to the graduation requirements. This group is also in the process of finalizing a timeline for communicating and working with parents and students this spring to be sure they completely understand all of the changes.”

The state began accepting public comments Dec. 20 on the new requirements under consideration. The state board is expected to make a final decision on the requirements at its Jan. 28-31 meeting in Austin.

Mike Mattingly, Denton’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said some employees in the district may offer opinions on the new requirements and the district encourages them to do so. Officials have not decided whether the district will submit an organized opinion of the proposals during the public comment period, he said.

“The more input that is given, the better,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The teachers’ voice, especially, needs to be heard within the process of rule-making.”

The new graduation guidelines would eliminate the “four-by-four” plan requiring students to take four courses each of English, math, science and social studies.

The new plan also eliminates the minimum, recommended and distinguished graduation plans and replaces them with foundation high school program, foundation with an endorsement (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies) and distinguished level of achievement graduation plans.

Each plan except for the foundation-only plan requires that students graduate with at least 26 credits. To view the first reading of the graduation plan, visit http://t.co/w9rBBkLvzw.

Public comments will be accepted by the state until Jan. 28. Officials with the Texas Education Agency say comments can be submitted electronically via rules@tea.state.tx.us or though physical mail addressed to the TEA office with attention to the curriculum department.

Officials ask that messages specify which rule section they are commenting on, said DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman.

Officials with the Pilot Point, Sanger, Krum and Lake Dallas school districts said they’re awaiting a decision from the State Board of Education on graduation requirements so that they may know how to implement plans for next year.

Cody Carroll, superintendent for the Krum school district, said the new law, known as House Bill 5, opens the door to several opportunities that his district looks to make beneficial to students.

“Public schools have been wanting more local control for a number of years, and HB 5 seemingly grants us that possibility,” he wrote in an e-mail. “HB 5 is still currently being debated by the State Board of Education and the Legislature, so many aspects of it are still not clear. However, we must be ready to go with a plan next fall that offers the best opportunities for our students, so we are forging ahead with the information we have.”

Gayle Stinson, superintendent for Lake Dallas public schools, said in an e-mail that HB 5 is “intended to transform the current structure of public high school education.” Years of work are ahead to reconstitute the current system, she wrote.

“Our district, like all others, is in the throes of renewing graduation plans and processes for the future. It’s exciting,” Stinson wrote.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876.

On Twitter:  @BritneyTabor


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