Petersburg’s school district is considering some changes to the grading system in the high school for next year. The school board Tuesday heard about some proposed changes that have been controversial in the past. Board members also heard about costs of implementing a random drug testing program for students in sports and other activities.

One change would mean plus and minus grades in the high school, meaning students could earn an A minus, B plus and other in-between grades on their report cards. Middle and high school principal Rick Dormer told the board plus and minus grades are already being used in the middle school and wanted to start that system in the high school. That change would impact student grade point averages, in place of the A, B, C D and F scale.

“Our goal is just to have this in place the beginning of next school year, whatever changes we decide to make,” Dormer said. “And some are very minor and hopefully will go through without a pass and some of them are a little more controversial and we’ll talk more about them but the goal is to start the next school year we always have the first week or so in both middle and high school where kids get a student handbook and they look through it and talk about changes and they sign it and take it home for mom and dad and they’re always on the website and so we want to, at that point that’s our notification as well as an assembly where we talk about things.”
Petersburg High School sign
Most students are graded on a 4.0 scale. Students who take advanced placement classes in the high school are already graded on a 5.0 scale. A proposed change to start with next year’s incoming freshmen class would use that 5.0 scale to determine the top 10 percent of the class at graduation. Those students are eligible for scholarship money to attend the University of Alaska. This change has been proposed in the past. However, parents and students didn’t want the system changed in the middle of a student’s high school years and asked for delayed implementation and advanced notice to be able to plan their course load at PHS.

Another change would be calculating the valedictorian and other class honors at the end of the second semester of senior year, instead of after the first semester as it is currently. “So it’s something to talk about but I like that because it is their full career,” Dormer said. “We’ve had a lot of students, some of our brightest have certainly pushed themselves really hard and then, I don’t wanna say coasted but taken it a little bit easier their last semester because they’re already the salutatorian and that was OK because they choose what they wanted to. I like this change. It will take some working to figure out the timing and allowing students and families to be notified but it’s something to talk about.”

Selection of the valedictorian is based on the unweighted 4.0 scale. However, Dormer said he wanted to talk about changing to the 5.0 scale for determining the honors, potentially for the class of 2017. The principal plans to meet with students about the changes this month and also wants to send out a survey for parents before deciding on the changes.

Dormer also reported that the high school has not yet issued a schedule for next year. “This is really comes from the state down not having the finances, not knowing where we’re at, not knowing where we’re at to hire teachers sooner and so we just don’t have a schedule. If I was in charge of the world we would have had a schedule before spring break but, it’s unsettling but we’re doing the best we can. They’re gonna have a schedule. Kids are going to go to classes in the fall and everything will be fine, but. A lot of people are asking because it is, it’s late. We don’t love it but we’re doing the best we can and trying to get all the ducks in a row to make that decision.”

The board is holding a special meeting on Monday May 18th and will hear a proposed budget for next year based on estimated funding levels from the state. The legislature gaveled out in April after coming to agreement on a partial state budget, but the governor called for a special session this month asking law makers to revisit the spending plan, including education funding.

In other business, the board heard a report from activities director Jaime Cabral about the cost of random drug testing for students in athletics and other extra-curricular activities. Cabral said the cost per test is $17, and then the district would have additional costs to test a second sample if one tested positive. Overall he estimated the cost of such a program could range as high as 8-thousand dollars a year up to 32-thousand dollars a year, depending on frequency of the tests, and percentage of the student athletes sampled randomly.

“A lot of the coaches and a lot of the community members that I’ve talked to, it’s a deterrent for ‘em. Gives them an out,” Cabral said. “If they’re in a situation that they feel uncomfortable in, it’s just I’m in season right now. don’t really want to partake in those activities. Kind of gives ‘em that piece and kind of get rid of that peer pressure.”

The board this month did not consider a proposal to start up such a program but has asked for information on what that would cost.

In other business, the board approved a new five-year bussing contract with Stikine Services of Petersburg.