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Tamaqua to tighten grad requirements for eighth graders

Published March 13. 2013 05:02PM

Attention Tamaqua Area School District eighth graders: If you don't pass Reading, Thinking, and Writing, Math, and Science during the regular school year, you're headed to summer school. And if you don't go to summer school, see you back in eighth grade.

During committee meetings Tuesday the school board took the first steps toward approving that change to the district's Promotion and Retention policy. The education committee President Larry Wittig, Wanda Zuber, and Eileen Meiser, agreed to place the resolution on the agenda for a vote at the board meeting March 19.

According to the existing policy, middle school students are promoted when they pass all major subjects; fail one subject; fail two subjects but make one up in summer school; or fail three subjects but make three up in summer school. Middle school students are not promoted when four or more major subjects are failed.

New language added to the existing policy specifically targets eighth graders, stating that those students "will only be promoted upon the successful completion of Reading, Thinking and Writing, Math and Science during the regular year or summer school. Also, with administrative approval, students that don't meet that criteria may be promoted based on a proficient or better score on the PSSA tests. Students may not fail the same subject in consecutive years."

In other words, eighth graders who fail Reading, Thinking and Writing, Math or Science during the regular year have to make it up in summer school.

"We're looking at the need for academic intervention at a critical time, and it's the move from eighth grade to ninth grade that needs to be targeted," Superintendent Carol Makuta said. "We want to get these kids to be successful when they're headed to ninth grade, and not wait until they're juniors."

Megan Frantz, the district's Title I Math sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teacher, told the board about her trip to the state governor's home for an open discussion on school safety. Frantz attended the meeting Jan. 22. Only 20 educators, primarily school superintendents, attended; Frantz was the only teacher present.

"The meeting began with an open discussion about what steps school districts were taking in regards to safety, both before the Sandy Hook incident and after it," Frantz said. "As I listened and heard what steps other districts had implemented, it made me proud to be a member of this district."

Frantz said that other school district representatives reported initiating policies regarding locking doors and requiring teachers and visitors to wear identification badges. Those were steps the Tamaqua Area School District had already taken, she noted.

In recent months, the Tamaqua School Board has tasked its education committee with researching the possibility of having anonymous staff members carry concealed weapons. Frantz said that after hearing what the representatives from other districts had to say, she realized that each district may have specific ways to improve school safety.

"The governor said that if money is available for schools (to improve safety), he wanted to know how it should be allocated," Frantz said. "It seemed that it would be best for money to be available in grant form, so that each district could use it as needed."

Makuta said that in any district, the response to a dangerous situation rests with a prepared staff.

"In a crisis you have to count on your staff," she said. "Someone's got to be tough, and someone's got to remain calm."

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