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North pledges to fix mistakes, while increasing transparency


July 03, 2019
North Harrison Community School Corp. legal counsel Marcus Burgher IV reported on his investigation into online and weighted courses and the student handbook at the board's regular monthly meeting on June 19.

Burgher detailed inconsistencies in the student handbook compared to what was implemented, dating back 10-plus years.

As for online courses, students were able to utilize PLATO for credit recovery or original credit at the discretion of the high school counselors.

Burgher also said weighted classes have been determined by the principal for years, since Kelly Simpson was principal (Simpson resigned in 2012).

Both issues, Burgher recommended, need to be addressed through policy that comes before the school board for approval. Any changes made to the policy also would have to come before the school board, to promote transparency.

During the discussion, a parent asked if all students were made aware of changes in weighted classes when they occurred, because her child, she said, was not.

"I'm going to give you the short answer," Burgher said. "It wasn't properly communicated to the public. We can go and try to look at specifics. I'm going to be very honest, it wasn't done properly, communicated (to) the public. In that situation, the school did not do what needed to be done to make sure everyone was aware of the programs available.

"We can't change that, what is coming out of this, the committee recommendations going forward, the process and procedures and polices will be more transparent, which is what needs to happen to make sure everyone is treated the same," he said.

A change that will occur, if newly-recommended policies are approved (Veronica Battista, the board's president, said the board is to vote on the recommendations at the July meeting), will be all courses taken will count toward a student's grade-point average.

Under Steve Hatton, who succeeded Simpson as principal and is now the corporation's assistant superintendent, policy was implemented to drop one class for purposes of GPA calculation. If a student decided not to take study hall and add another course to the schedule, their GPA would suffer it if was already above 4.0 and the class was not weighted.

"We're going to hurt our best students if we don't do something," Burgher said, describing the situation at the time.

Since the 2014-15 school year, GPA was calculated by dropping one class.

"Nothing illegal or improper about doing it that way, but the problem is it doesn't treat everyone the same and it isn't a policy that everyone can look at and say, 'Oh, that's how the GPA was formed,' " Burgher said.

One of the recommendations is to go away from that, he said.

Hatton said the principal determining weighted classes had always been the practice.

"(Kelly) Simpson made those decisions about what was weighted," he said. "We just tried to help kids. We always, our policy, and my policy and Matt's (Kellems, current principal), one thing I always wanted to do was try to help kids Kids were taking study hall to get a bump (in GPA). Why should a kid not be able to go take a class without it hurting them? Everything we did, we did to help kids. All kids. And that goes way back."

Hatton said when the Class of 2019 was in seventh grade, he went to then-Superintendent D. John Thomas and said he wanted to do away with valedictorian and salutatorian.

"I was seeing every year we were running into issues," he said.

Hatton admitted, as principal, he fell short when it came to communication.

"Where I fell short, I can say that was my lack of communication," he said. "Most things were in the course description book, but some of those things were not in the handbook. Our guidance department, a lot of the things we're talking about, they are directly responsible for putting those in there, but, as the building principal, I'll say I did a very poor job of going back through and looking at the handbook and making sure it matched up with the course description book.

"As Mr. Burgher is kind of identifying some of these things, I thought, 'Oh, my gosh.' Things were presented to the kids, the kids knew, but here's where I have a problem with all this. Some were eighth-graders, some freshmen, and I'm telling them this is what they have to do and this is what's going to happen. You're the parent, so there were things looking back I could change I hate it; I've been sick over all this. I hate it with a passion because I love the kids and I love this community But, on my end, any decision I ever made, my kid or any other kid, there's not a kid I wouldn't help or not a human being I wouldn't try to help. But this is where we are, and it's a mess and we need to fix it, and I really don't know what else to say."

Before detailing the proposed changes that came from a committee of students, teachers, parents and administration, Kellems said he was always taught if you mess up, admit it, apologize and make it right.

"That's what we're trying to do," he said.

The proposal addresses the issues with two major changes: a move to a Latin graduation honor system and a significant cut in weighted classes.

The policy also will remove the stipulation on credits earned from alternative school/credit recovery not counting toward an Academic Honors Diploma. The policy will remove any added North Harrison restrictions as it applied to the Academic Honors Diploma.

"The feeling of the committee was that it was unfair to require additional requirements of North Harrison students that are not required of students at other Indiana high schools, placing them at a disadvantage for scholarship opportunities," the policy statement said. "The committee however was concerned that this could lead to students selecting a less rigorous schedule, so we would like to add a diploma type 'WITH DISTINCTION' to award students who still remained in all honors classes."

The recommended weighted classes, which will take effect with the graduation of the Class of 2021, will be English 11 Honors, English 12 Honors, Spanish IV, German IV, Calculus, Pre-Calculus/Trig, Biology II, Chemistry II and Physics.

The plan will remove the following weighted courses: English 9 Honors, English 10 Honors, Finite Math, Geometry Honors, Algebra II Honors, Band/Jazz/Choir, Biology I Honors, German III, Spanish III, Psychology, Sociology, Chemistry I Honors, and Advanced Anatomy & Physiology.

Members of the audience expressed concern that the policy would "fix the problem twice" by eliminating valedictorians and salutatorians and cutting weighted classes.

The feeling that the quality of education will suffer with less weighted classes was also expressed by an audience member.

The drop in weighted classes will give students more flexibility, Kellems said.

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