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Academic requirements for student athletes scrutinized

July 28, 2010
TILTON — A discrepancy in the academic requirements for student athletes at the high school and the middle school has the Winnisquam Regional School Board considering a policy change.

The current policy regarding extracurricular activities states that middle school students with a failing grade (below 65) in any class go on the warning list for one week. If he/she does not bring the grade up, he/she will go on the Non-Participation List until passing. The policy for high school students is that they must earn four credits of work from the previous quarter. In other words, high school students can fail 40 percent of their classes and still participate in after-school activities.

Though the policy applies to all extracurricular activities, the board's discussion pertained mainly to athletics.

Board Chairman Michael Gagne said that while he understands that the high school has been promoting the benefits of being a student athlete, there shouldn't be such a disparity between middle school and high school expectations.

The board first discussed implementing a change immediately, but some board members and administrators advised against such urgency.

"If we put this into place for fall, it could potentially impact a large number of kids," high school Principal Ronna Cadarette said, noting that fall participation is based on fourth-quarter grades. "To implement (a policy change) there need to be far more conversations and dialogue."

Cadarette also said a new policy would be in conflict with what the district just established in the 2010-2011 handbook, which has been approved by the School Board and is at the printer's.

Sanbornton Central School Principal Mikel LaChapelle, who was vice principal of the high school last year, said that for high school classes, large projects or big tests can change grades drastically, but not necessarily quickly. Having the same policy for high school students as for middle school students would be harder to implement, because grades can stay the same for longer periods of time and students may not have an opportunity to bring them up in the one-week timeframe that applies to middle school students.

Cadarette said she would need time to train her staff to update grades on a regular basis. She said that for the past year she has been working with teachers to implement two-week online updates but that it has been a matter of practice, not policy, and more training would be necessary before making it mandatory.

"It's something that we have been striving for all last year," she said. "These are pieces we'd have to have in place."

Board member Cindy Chapin said that as a parent of student athletes, she can see a new policy seriously affecting participation rates. She said many athletes do well in school so they can participate, and that it would be important to improve the online gradebook first.

Gagne said he agreed that it would be hard to change the policy immediately with the new handbook already being printed.

"I think we need to look at the next school year," Gagne said. "What's wrong with saying, 'Bring us a proposal that would better align the two schools'?"

LaChapelle suggested getting students involved.

"Encourage them to be a part of the process," he said. "They're going to get frustrated being told what to do."

Some board members wanted to see the policy change sooner. Board member Jasen Stock asked whether it would be possible to implement a new policy after the holiday break.

"Is there an opportunity to get the input, get the buy in, and not lose another year?" he asked.

Board member Tim Lang suggested changing the high school policy to read like the middle school policy but extend it to taking action after four weeks of failing rather than one.

Superintendent Tammy Davis reminded the board that administrators have some other priorities as well and said it might be beneficial to gather a study committee and then establish a timeline.

"I think there are implications here and I want to make sure we think them out before we have unintended consequences," she said.

Ultimately the board voted to establish a committee to rewrite the policy with the goal of ensuring parity between middle and high school extracurricular activity eligibility requirements. The committee will report back to the board in December with an update and a presentation "to keep the momentum going." The committee's charge also includes studying the grading system.

"I think that raising the bar is the only option," Gagne said.

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