WOONSOCKET – The School Committee will consider toughening requirements for a passing grade and attendance in local schools when the panel meets on Wednesday.
School Committeewoman Vimala Phongsavanh is proposing that the committee raise a passing grade to 70, the requirement that had been in place until the committee voted last year to lower it to a grade of 60 as a way to retain more at-risk students in school.
The committee, at that time, also modified the penalties for absenteeism for similar reasons.
Phongsavanh said on Friday that she has proposed the changes as a way to open a discussion on whether last year's policy modifications in those areas have been successful.
Information on local students included in the recent Kids Count Factbook indicated that that 48 percent of the students at the high school had 10 absences or more, Phongsavanh said. The study also found 36 percent of middle school students to have 10 absences or more and 26 percent of elementary students to have 10 absences or more.
“This is a big problem in the community and I just want to start a conversation about how to address it,” she said. Absenteeism affects student graduation rates and it also affects how engaged students are in school, she noted.
Phongsavanh had been among her fellow members approving the move lowering passing grades to 60 but in light of information coming back since the change she now feels policy should be revised.
“We are losing credibility,” she said. “Some districts in the state have 60 or 65 as a passing grade but I think we need to set our expectations for success in school higher.”
Phongsavanh said she doesn't know if her peers on the panel will support her proposed changes, but she at least wants to have a discussion about their merits.
Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier said she was interested in hearing more about the proposals and questioned why they were being raised without initially being offered to the panel's curriculum subcommittee.
“The curriculum committee is meeting on Monday and my personal feeling is that it should be discussed there first,” she said.
Since the change for a passing grade was put into place, students achieving As, Bs, and Cs do not appear to have been negatively impacted and continue to seek success, she said.
Students earning Ds in the past appear to be doing better in school as a result of the change and while students failing now can earn a D, they do seem to be more encouraged about remaining in school, Forcier said.
She said she will ask that the policy changes be considered for a recommendation by the curriculum committee but noted it will be up to the full panel to decide the next step.
In other matters planned for Wednesday, the committee will consider giving the no-longer-used Social Street School back to the city. An alternative program had been run in the school as its last use, but it hasn't been used this year, Forcier said.
The century-old school building was considered the best of the city's old brick elementary schools when a plan to replace them with new schools was put into effect in the 1990s. The neighborhood schools turned back to the city, such as the old Pothier Elementary School also on Social Street and the Grove Street School and the Vose Street School, were sold to private developers and converted to residential use.
The former Kendrick Avenue School is now home to the Woonsocket Boys and Girls Club.
The panel will also consider a resolution opposing binding arbitration with union school employees.