Graduation just got two credits heavier.

The Missoula County Public School board was one vote shy of unanimous Tuesday night in bumping up the credit requirement for graduation to 24, saying kids need and want the challenge.

In an impassioned defense of the move, Superintendent Alex Apostle said he's talked to students across the district who said "they don't feel like they're being challenged right now."

"And I'm not talking about one school," said Apostle, who has pushed for the new credit requirement for a year. "I'm talking about all of them."

The sole dissenting vote came from trustee Jim Sadler, the only trustee to have opposed the policy from the start.

Sadler said the public has been effectively shut out of the process in ramping up the graduation requirement.

"I think we need more than, ‘This is the word from on high, and this is the way it's going to be,' " he said. "I'm worried about the arrogance of this."

Sadler repeated his oft-stated criticisms: That two additional credits will harm students who are struggling academically, that it could cost the district more money and that it is a premature move considering other large-scale changes within MCPS - most notably, the "21st century schools" model the district is adopting.

"I'm concerned we've been ramping up the rigor in our regular courses and I think that needs to settle a bit," he said.

But the new policy was lauded by numerous others, who said that students need - and want - to be held to a higher standard.

"As long as the expectations are given to students from the get-go," said trustee Nancy Pickardt, "I think those students really have the desire and ability to achieve for themselves."

Board president Toni Rehbein added: "When we raise the bar, when we raise expectations for them, they will achieve."

MEA union president Dave Severson said most teachers support the added credits.

"I don't think this is too high a bar," he said.

With its approval, the new requirement goes into effect for the incoming freshman class - the class of 2014.

Right now, it does not mandate where the two extra credits are applied - the district has not changed its curriculum requirements.

That is likely to change soon.

Apostle, who is normally calm and understated during school board meetings, seemed a bit perturbed by criticisms of the policy.

"We need to lead the state of Montana and the nation in terms of education," he said. "This is 21st century education, and the 21st century is already 10 years old. Right now, to graduate, a student needs two credits of math. Two. That's not good. We need to raise standards and we need to do it yesterday."

The board did it Tuesday night.

***

Early in the meeting, the board briefly revisited its proposed policy on student publications, which has drawn criticism from teachers, students and academics.

Apostle announced the formation of a committee to look at that policy, which is set to be voted on in the Aug. 10 board meeting.

Apostle is asking administrators, yearbook and journalism teachers, students and any interested community members to join the committee, which will work on clarifying or amending the policy.

Those interested should call Apostle directly at 728-2400, Ext. 1023.

***

Also Tuesday, the MCPS school board:

• Approved the awarding of a contract to Public Consulting Group Inc., of Portsmouth, N.H., a firm that will help the district implement its "21st century schools" model.

• Approved a consent agenda item raising the pay of nonunion employees - administrators, athletic trainers, supervisors and others - by one-half of 1 percent, the same raise union employees agreed to earlier this year.

• Approved a refinance of its debt, which will save more than $60,000 in debt repayment in the MCPS budget.

• Welcomed Trevor Laboski, the new principal of Big Sky High School, who replaces Paul Johnson. Johnson was moved to Washington Middle School.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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