The Chagrin Falls Board of Education approved contract extensions and the hiring of a new teacher and discussed a new proposal for graduation requirements at its Monday meeting.

Superintendent Robert Hunt updated the board on a new proposal developed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ohio Excels and the Alliance for High Quality Education to change Ohio’s graduation requirements. Mr. Hunt is a member of the Alliance’s executive board and said graduation requirements have changed in each of the last three years, with almost 30 percent of Ohio seniors not on track to graduate this year before the legislature amended requirements in December.

“This has been kind of an ongoing conversation and I think that everyone in the legislature and in education wants a clear target, we want to define it and we want a place so we can operate and move under it,” he said.

Working with legislators, the three organizations developed a proposal of three components. The course completion component would include students earning the minimum number of credits set by the state and individual districts.

The competency component would entail students earning a competent score on the state’s algebra 1 and English 2 tests or using an alternate demonstration through college credit plus, career experience and technical skill or military readiness. The preparation for college or career component would require students to earn two out of 11 diploma seals in areas including military enlistment, honors diploma, seal of biliteracy and community service.

“A lot of these are locally defined. Take for example the community service seal. All of our students already have that,” Mr. Hunt said. “The idea is to start recognizing that a quality education is more than a test score and this is a way to do it, a holistic approach.”

Mr. Hunt said the proposal is more attainable for students who are struggling compared to the overwhelming requirements for the current Ohio Department of Education capstone option for graduation.

“When we saw (the capstone requirements) come out, we just feel like it is not something that’s attainable for our at-risk students,” he said. “I believe that (this proposal) has legs now, but I also know if this is the proposal, this won’t be the final end. There’s a lot of back and forth that’s going to happen.”

Mr. Hunt noted there are very few Chagrin Falls students who would be impacted by the change since the district is high achieving. Board member Sharon Broz said she worried that the 11 seals would give some students added pressure to earn as many seals as possible to get a leg up in college admissions.

“Look at what happens now with the number of AP courses our students take,” she said. “I’m just putting it out there as a concern that we should be prepared to manage the students perception of what this means in terms of college readiness and the goal is not to have 10 of the 11.”

Mr. Hunt said the proposal would be a “less stressful path” and if passed the district would work to educate students on the purpose of the seals.

In other business, Chagrin Falls Middle School Principal Laila Discenza and Gurney Elementary School Assistant Principal Curtis Howell were approved for contract extensions from Aug. 1, 2020 through July 31, 2022. Ms. Discenza will continue to receive $103,520 annually, and Mr. Howell will continue to receive $86,000 annually.

Gurney Principal Rachel Jones introduced the board to new elementary art teacher Laine Keener. Ms. Keener graduated with her bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Kent State University and returned to school to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction in visual arts K-12 from the University of Akron, Dr. Jones said.

The board unanimously approved the hiring of Ms. Keener at a $48,224 annual salary.

“When Laine first interviewed with Mr. Howell and myself, she stood out right away,” she said. Dr. Jones noted Ms. Keener was the unanimous choice of the building leadership team out of approximately 60 applicants.

The board also approved a stipend payment to Kathleen Gill at a rate of $30 an hour for up to 10 days of writing/planning work from June 2019 through June 2020 on top of her current $97,375 annual salary for her new role as kindergarten to 12th grade English language arts instructional coach. Mr. Hunt said the district plans to transfer a current kindergarten teacher to fill Ms. Gill’s previous role as an English teacher at Chagrin Falls Intermediate School due to lower kindergarten enrollment.

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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