Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Proposed eligibility requirements face strong opposition at recent school board meeting

How do we raise the bar for academics locally? That is the question the Kimball Board of Education has asked themselves for a number of years.

Following a presentation by local teachers at the end of the 2016-17 school year, the board revisited the question and came up with an answer – reforming the eligibility policy.

Proposed changes met with some opposition at the Dec. 11 board meeting from parents, educators and coaches.

Some of the changes were applauded, such as those made to the grading system that could potentially help students in the classroom and when applying for scholarships.

Under the current grading system, any student earning 93 – 100 percent will receive an "A" and that student's G.P.A will be 4.0. Likewise a "B" grade is given for work ranging from 85 – 92 percent with a 3.0 equivalent; a "C" is given for work ranging from 77 – 84 percent with a G.P.A of 2.0 and a "D is given for work in the 70-76 percent range with an equivalent G.P.A of 1.0. Any work that is graded lower than 70 percent is given an "F" with no credit on the G.P.A scale.

The proposed changes lower the minimum percentage required for each letter grade, so "A" work is anything that ranges from 90 – 100 percent. A "B" is given for any student earning 80 – 89 percent and the G.P.A equivalent of 3.0. A "C" is given for any work earning 70 – 79 percent and the equivalent G.P.A is 2.0 while grades in the 65 – 69 percent range is assigned the letter "D" and the G.P.A of 1.0. Any grade lower than a 65 is an "F" with no G.P.A equivalent.

Educators are happy with this change, but not with the attached eligibility change, though students would not become ineligible to attend events unless grades fell below 70 percent – as the policy currently reads, that percentage would be a "D", not an "F".

"I just want to make it clear that right now the policy reads that if they currently have one grade less than a 70 (percent) they are ineligible," board member Brad Reader said. "The proposed policy says that if they have one grade less than a 70 (percent) they are ineligible."

Kimball High School teacher Vicki Mitchell addressed the board regarding this proposed change. "Through all the years I have been in education, we have seen a direct correlation between those participating in athletics and them keeping their grades up," she said. "We want to see our students participate. They get a more rounded education if they participate, and Nebraska School Activities supports that 100 percent – they have the data for that."

Parents echoed much of the same sentiment with concern that the proposal will eventually cause students to give up, not only athletically, but academically as well.

"Kimball is the only school that shows up with so many kids ineligible. I don't want to see a situation where we make the standards tougher thinking we are doing something right, but indirectly hurting the students and the schools," parent Mike Reuter said. "I just don't think it is a policy that is going to help the students we are trying to help. There has got to be a different way to get them motivated, and I don't think it is making it tougher to compete."

Special Services educator, and cross country coach, Tiffany Johnson, added that some students work very hard and still struggle to maintain a grade of 65.

"We have students in school that do not participate because they cannot keep their grades up," Johnson said. "It shouldn't be a punishment to a student because they do not perform at a high level."

High School guidance counselor Chauncey Pedersen added that the changes to the policy may "chase more students off."

He added that some students don't go home to internet access or two parents able and willing to help them.

"We at Kimball Jr./Sr. High School should be prepared to lose more students to Potter and Banner County if this policy passes, not only our lower-end students, but I think we will lose some of our mid-level students," Pedersen said. "We won't have enough students to put on the court or the field."

Currently, according to High School Principal Eugene Hanks, Kimball has 17 students that have opted to attend Potter-Dix and Banner County schools.

Board member Carrie Tabor addressed the board and those in attendance with the task the board had in front of them – increasing standards and ensuring that students reach their personal pinnacle in education.

"I was on the committee that met to change this policy. The goal of evaluating this part of the handbook was to figure out how to raise expectation for students, teachers and the staff in total," Tabor said.

She added that often, students become ineligible due to missing work.

Additional changes to the policy that face much less scrutiny include that late work may be turned in up to four days late from reduced credit. The board added that educators will have the option to offer students more leniency under the proposed policy, but not stricter guidelines.

Grades for assignments turned in one day late can be given no less than a 90 percent if done completely and correctly. Those assignments turned in two days late can be given no less than an 80 percent, 70 percent for assignments completed and returned three days late, 60 percent for those returned four days late and anything turned in to educators five days late or more can be given a zero.

"I do fully understand and appreciate all of the comments and concerns. But I also heard in the committee meeting that we have a culture of acceptance of failure, from our teachers down to our students," Tabor said. "We have to change that culture."

Interim Superintendent of School, L. Kent Halley, said that passing the policy without further work would do an injustice to students, parents, staff and the board.

"We have been talking about this for six or nine months," Tabor added. "What I heard was that our kids were fine with failing."

Ultimately the board chose to table the matter, though they wish to have the final policy in place prior to the beginning of the calendar year. They set a special meeting date on Dec. 27, at 5:30 p.m., to further discuss this matter.