The Alabama Board of Education last week approved Calhoun County Schools' new guidelines based on flexibility options offered under the Alabama Accountability Act passed earlier this year. Calhoun County is the first school system in the state to get approval to opt out of state guidelines under the new law, state school officials said.
“The flexibility plan gives us the ability to make options available with less parameters,” said Joe Dyar, the superintendent of Calhoun County Schools. “It’s about reaching every student and making sure they can graduate.”
The biggest components of the plan include opt-out options that mean students can waiver parts of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam if they pass equivalent course exams at the end of the semester. The guidelines also allow students to take more than 10 credit hours a year in order to graduate earlier.
Dyar said the approved plan, called the 2016 plan, wants to increase the graduation rate by making available options for all students to graduate, regardless of background.
“We believe education can happen anytime, anyplace,” Dyar said, explaining the concept behind the plan. “We want to work with the students based on their needs, and around their schedules.”
Lorrie Moody, Calhoun County School’s data cohort specialist, said the new guidelines aren’t intended to make graduation requirements less rigorous, but to come up with innovative strategies to reach more students.
“It’s not about asking for less, because we’re asking for more out of our students,” Moody said. “I feel like for the first time in a long time we’ve been given permission to think outside the box.”
Moody said she’d been working with the superintendent before the Alabama Accountability Act on new plans for the school, but the legislation made seeking approval for some of the guidelines less of a burden.
Tracy Roberts, state school board member from District 1, said the Calhoun County Schools plan is as innovative a guideline she’s seen for a public school system in the state of Alabama. Roberts said the plan goes above and beyond what schools are asked to do, making it a personal mission to reach out to students unable to meet traditional standards of graduation.
“I’m just so excited to see them not say, ‘we can’t do this, it’s not our job,’” Roberts said. “They’re saying that they’re going to do everything they can to make sure these kids graduate.”
Ed Roe, the deputy superintendent for Calhoun County Schools, said he estimates the new plan affects between 10 and 15 percent of the population in Calhoun County Schools that he calls “at-risk.” Factors leading to students not graduating can include homelessness, lack of parental guidance, raising kids, working jobs or lack of transportation.
Roe said Calhoun County Schools’ graduation rate is currently 81 percent.
Dyar said he will make a presentation next month to state senators, including Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, about Calhoun County’s plan.
The Alabama Accountability Act has been controversial since its passage, mostly for the act’s school tax credits. Revisions to the original School Flexibility Act added language that gives families of students in failing schools a $3,500 tax credit to transfer to a private or non-failing public school.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.