816 North

North Kansas City considers tougher graduation requirements

Updated: 2013-11-20T17:29:55Z

By JILL SEDERSTROM

Special to The Star

High school may be getting a little more demanding for some Northland students.

The North Kansas City School District is considering eliminating their most basic path to graduation, which calls for 24 credit hours during their high school career, and instead requiring at least 26 credits. As it stands now, the district’s credit requirement is among the lowest on the Missouri side of the metro area and is below both the Liberty and Park Hill school districts.

North Kansas City’s graduation task force committee, which was formed to examine the issue, also plans to recommend that the new graduation requirements include a half credit of online learning experience, a service component and the possible addition of one more math credit.

If approved, the recommendations would affect the class of 2019 — the district’s current seventh graders.

David Ulrich, deputy director of secondary education for the North Kansas City School District, said one reasons the district is considering the change is because there is a feeling in the Northland that the district was “somehow the valley” in terms of graduation requirements when compared with other school districts.

For instance, students in the Liberty School District need 25.5 credits to graduate and Park Hill Schools students need 28 credits, one of the higher credit amounts in the area.

Marlie Williams, executive director of secondary education for Liberty Public Schools, said that the district tries to take a whole-child perspective in its graduation requirements to promote reflective, problem-solving adults who understand they have a civic responsibility to the community.

“We really want students (and) families to make really informed choices about courses and programs of study so that whatever the students are doing academically aligns with their set of personal strengths, their goals, whatever their plans for the future entail,” Williams said.

While the Liberty school district doesn’t have a service component to its graduation requirements, Williams said the district’s new strategic plan aims to rework graduation requirements to include at least one civically-oriented project while in high school. Discussion on the subject is supposed to start in fall 2015.

The advantage of a service component, according to Williams, is that it helps students build social responsibility and allows them to plug into their community in a new way. Williams once worked for a district that required its students to perform some type of community service.

“When you get out and you engage with (community) stakeholders, you are involved in decision making, you are involved with actions that impact not only you but your community,” she said.

Jeff Klein, Park Hill’s assistant superintendent for Academic Services, said his district used to have two diploma options for its students but decided a while back to require 28 credits of all graduates.

“We made the decision that we wanted to have a high standard of rigor for the diploma we offer all students,” he said.

In an effort to prepare students for college and career readiness, the district also requires students complete a course with an online component, whether it’scompleted exclusively on the internet or combines online coursework with classroom time.

“More and more post-secondary education is moving into an online platform, so we wanted to put some things in place for that so they are prepared for that,” Klein said.

Park Hill is also considering making some of its own changes to graduation requirements. According to Klein, district officials are considering a move from 10 elective credits to 11, in an effort to give students more opportunity to personalize their learning.

“One of the things that we are doing right now is we have an interest in ensuring as much as possible that the course plans that our students develop help them pursue their areas of career and college interest,” he said.

Currently in the North Kansas City Schools, the district offers four separate paths to graduation: a North Kansas City Schools Diploma, College Readiness Diploma, Gold Medallion Honors Diploma and an International Baccalaureate Diploma.

According to a presentation given to North Kansas City Board of Education members last week, since 2010, 68 percent of students in the district have graduated from the district with a North Kansas City Schools Diploma, which requires 24 credit hours. However, Ulrich said the actual average credits earned by students receiving that diploma was 27.2.

Under the task force committee’s recommendations the district would eliminate the North Kansas City Schools Diploma option and instead offer the three remaining diplomas, renaming the College Readiness Diploma to the Career/College Readiness Diploma.

Although 26 credits would be the minimum, Ulrich said the district provides 31 opportunities for students to earn credits during their school day.

The graduation task force committee plans to present its final recommendations to the school board at the December board meeting.

If the changes are approved, Ulrich said it would send a clear message that the district wants students to be prepared for their post high school plans, whatever their paths are.

“There would be no valley in the North Kansas City School District,” he told board members.

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