New Diploma Options Discussed for Alvirne Graduates

July 25, 2014

by Lynne Ober

Alvirne High School Principal Steve Beals submitted a written proposal to the Hudson School Board to develop a Distinguished Diploma for Alvirne students and then made an hour-long presentation on the proposal at Monday’s school board meeting. The purpose of this proposal was to develop a second diploma which would have higher standards for graduates, a program that has already been implemented at many New Hampshire high schools.

At the end of the proposal School Board member Mike Truesdale said, “There are a lot of loose ends. When could you come back and tighten up these loose ends?” Beals responded that it would be at least four months or some time in November before that could be done.

During the presentation Beals told the board that he wanted an “option to further encourage and reward academic excellence.” However, he didn’t stop there. “In addition, we are proposing the option of a separate NH Adult Diploma as a safety net for our most struggling students who are at-risk for dropping out. The NH Adult Diploma program would include a night school component.”

With these two additional diploma options, students could earn what Beals called a traditional diploma, which is currently available or take additional academic credits and earn a distinguished diploma or provide an alternative graduation avenue for struggling students, which would be the NH Adult Diploma.

The overall goal would be to reduce the number of high school dropouts. However, one has to wonder if the objective of lowering the dropout rate really meshes with the goal of ensuring that all graduates meet certain academic standards. While Beal’s proposal spoke to the objective of lowering the dropout rate, it did not address whether the academic needs of struggling students would be met or if the new option would just lower standards to such a degree that everyone earned some type of diploma from high school.

As the conversation with the board unfolded, board members learned that the Bedford School Board does not allow students who take one of their night classes to transfer that credit to either a traditional or distinguished diploma and the reason given is that night classes have fewer contact hours and less academic rigor than classes taken during the daytime.

However, the Distinguished Diploma added requirements and academic rigor and would require 24 credits, which is an increase of three and one half credits from the current standard. Each student who earned this would be required to successfully complete four credits in English, four credits in science and four credits in math. This is an increase in science and math. Required social studies credits would increase to three and a half and an additional two credits in a foreign language would now be required. The current requirements of one credit in technology, one credit in physical education and half a credit in each fine art and health would be continued. In addition students would complete 3.5 elective credits. Additional possibilities to be considered would be a community service component, requirement for a minimum GPA, and the completion of an honors/AP course, and an on-line course.

The current traditional diploma requirements would be increased to 22 credits, which would include four credits in English, three credits in math, including a required algebra one course, three credits science, three credits social studies, which includes world history, U.S. history, economics and government, one credit in physical education, one credit in technology, half a credit in each health and fine art and six credits in electives.

However the NH Adult Diploma would lower the total credits required to 20, which is a half credit decrease from the standard required today. While four credits in English and three credits in math, including algebra, would still be required, only two credits in science would be required and the science course would not have a mandatory lab component. Social studies is dropped to 2.5 credits, technology dropped to half a credit and either electives would be required.

Beals reported that programs around the state had been researched and there had been lengthy discussions with department heads and his administrative teach, including a presentation on the Bedford, NH program. Faculty feedback had also been sought and considered. Beals said that the algebra requirement, implemented by the school board as a basic requirement to graduate from Alvirne, would remain as part of the NH Adult Diploma.

However, when school board member Stacy Milbouer said she wished to remove that requirement for the NH Adult diploma, Vice-chairman Patty Langlais said she had watched the building trade students use more advanced math and felt this requirement should stay.

If approved the Distinguished Diploma would be implemented for the class of 2015 and the traditional diploma, which required an additional credit would be implemented either for the class of 2017 or 2018.

However, Beals wanted to implement the diploma that lowers requirements as soon as 2015. In fact, he said he wanted to submit the application for the NH Adult Diploma this week so it was apparent that the board was being given little time to research or flesh out the proposal with all the loose ends.

Beals told the board that there is an application process for the NH Adult Diploma, which required the establishment of evening classes at Alvirne High School. When Beals was asked if AHS might partner with surrounding areas rather than develop yet another night high school program, he responded, “Currently, our neighbors, Nashua and Londonderry have programs, while we do send some students to each location; the feedback we have received from students and families is that the transportation always seems to be an issue.” That response led the HLN to question whether a night bus was planned to provide transportation for these students, but no response was received by press deadline. Beals also noted, “Our students, who take an adult education course at Londonderry or Nashua, transfer the credit back to us. Given our proximity, we are hoping to attract some Campbell students as well, almost serving as a partner, as well as Pelham or Windham possibly.”

The HLN inquired about the possibility of using the NH Virtual Learning Academy, a charter school that offers a full high school curriculum via on-line classes rather than the expense of setting up another high school night school program, when two other such night programs are readily available, but a response was not received by press deadline.

Beals responded that the students who are motivated to learn do well with VLACS classes, but the students who would take the NH Adult Diploma do not have that motivation. Therefore he wanted to set up his own night program.

Although Beals said he hoped to get a grant from the state to offset part of the costs of this evening program, he did not supply a detailed budget with his proposal. He did propose cost figures which showed the state would pay $5,000 via a grant; the district would garner $3,000 through in-district tuition and $1,500 through out of district tuition, but showed no expense figures. The HLN asked how much expenses for teacher salaries, books and supplies would be, but were provided no figures by press time. If budget figures are received later, they will be published.

Teachers would be paid $30 per hour and he expected to hire two teachers who would work 3.5 hours per week for 18 weeks for a total of $3,780.

Employee Benefits (please specify)

Employer’s taxes: 7.65% of $3,780 = $289.17

Employer’s retirement contribution: 14.16% of $3,780 = $535.25

The total for employee benefits would be $824.42

Books would be $395.58.

During the questioning by the board, Chairman Laura Bisson also asked about the costs. Beals then said, “Yes there will be budget expenses,” but no figures were presented. When Assistant Principal and Academic Dean Susan Bureau was asked to lead an implementation discussion, it was revealed that a stipend position would be needed to coordinate the program. At that time, it was also revealed that courses in the adult program at Salem High School start as early as 4 p.m. and that both the Salem and Londonderry programs run 10 to 12 classes per night, but no expenses for these programs were shared with the board.

How much, if any, this would increase the taxes for property owners could not be determined without knowing the expected expenses. In response to an HLN question Beals said the “program could be self-sustaining, funded, or partially funded by district.” However at the board, he stressed that district funding would be needed and did not talk about a self-funded program. Although he thought there was a “possibility of continued follow-up grant money from state,” he did not discuss what would happen if expected grants are not available. Nor did he provide details of how the program could be self-sustaining. Does he envision that night students will pay enough tuition to cover all costs of the program?

In response to an HLN question asking if the school district would submit a warrant article to support the expenses of this program, Beals said, “In the 2015-2016 budget, we would look to increase our budget allotment for academic support; adult education, Hi Set testing and afterschool remediation all fit into that.” The board did not question the need for a warrant article for either the new stipend position or the budget costs, but perhaps that was because there were still so many missing pieces of the proposal and they will wait until the additional proposal in November before deciding if a warrant article or two will be needed.

In order to participate in the NH Adult Diploma program, there is a state requirement that students would have to be at least 16 years old to enroll in this diploma program and Beals thought that students “may be dual enrolled (taking AHS classes as well as Adult classes) working toward either a traditional AHS Diploma or Hudson School District Adult Diploma.” If state funding is available to offset the costs of the program, such funding would be available for students between the ages of 16 and 18. If students are dual enrolled, then Beals expects that all guidance and administrative needs would be met during the day when students were attending regular Alvirne classes, but how would that affect the expected out of district students for the night program? Would Alvirne staff be expected to work at night to provide guidance and administrative services? If yes, how would they be paid and who would pay for those costs? No mention was made. Students would be allowed to transfer credits from other programs as well as from on-line sources.

SPED Director Jeanne Saunders said, “Some of our students are looking for the easy way out so reducing graduation requirements would help.” She also thought this option would help students who didn’t want to get up to attend school in the morning.

Beals concluded by saying that this was implementation 1.0 and that “we will learn from our mistakes.” He thought the board might enjoy a respite from budget deliberations in November and suggested an Alvirne High School night at the board so that he could also report on feedback from the new modified block scheduling that will be implemented in the fall.