1 district says students who pass can have shorter school days

Published 12:53 am Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pass your classes, get out of school an hour early.

Stephen Handley, superintendent of the Hinds County School District, hopes that carrot encourages his district’s high school students next year to do their best.

For those who are failing even one class, an hour of enrichment from 2:30-3:30 p.m. four days a week will be aimed to immediately improve performance and send the message the district doesn’t want students to fail.

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“We’re going to do everything we can to make you pass,” Handley said Thursday. “We’re not going to accept failure.”

Handley said the idea came from the district realizing it was doing a good job of remediating elementary and middle school students, but not high school students. All of the details aren’t worked out yet, but he said the school district welcomes feedback and will talk to parents or community organizations interested in hearing more.

“We just felt like it was time to try something different,” Handley said.

Both Handley and Caron Blanton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said they knew of no other districts in the state doing this.

Every teacher will be assigned to teams to help students. They won’t be paid extra, because the schedule shuffle uses an hour of the regular school day.

Handley said he and administrators estimate the effort will cost the district less than $50,000 next school year. Most of the cost will come from running a round of buses at 2:30 p.m. when the first students are dismissed and a second round at 3:30 p.m.

“If that helps us get kids to pass, it’ll be money well spent,” Handley said.

Starting in August, students who failed a class this school year will attend the enrichment class to earn credit for the class they failed. After the first progress reports — about four weeks into the school year — students who are failing will attend the enrichment class.

If they’re passing by the time report cards are issued, they won’t have to stay later than most other students anymore.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s an incentive for them to do better,” said Sherri Hodges, the mother of a Terry High senior. “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids that need help.”

She said that she’s happy that the school district is doing something innovative to help students, and it won’t cost the district much money.

“The teachers would be there anyway.”

Terry High’s enrollment was 1,134 last year, Raymond had 536 students.

Handley said he expects a lot of students to have to stay late when the program starts, but then average out to about 3 percent. That’s about 50 students.

Students on sports teams or in activities who must attend the enrichment classes will go late to practice or to their events.

“It doesn’t do any good to us to have you on our teams if you’re not going to make the grade,” Handley said. “We can no longer sit back and allow students to fail, we’ve got to take a proactive approach.”

The negative, Handley said, will be dealing with students who try to skip the enrichment classes when they’re supposed to attend. After the third time a student tries to skip, they will be sent to the district’s Main Street Restart Center until they have passing grades again.