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The Diagonal Community Schools board of education and administration is currently working to satisfy requirements to retain the high school’s accreditation from the Iowa Department of Education (DE).
In a recent report, the DE cited the Diagonal district with a list of infractions that require district action.
The district has already satisfied the majority on that list, and most of those remaining are minor items such as painting lines for handicapped parking places, posting public notices, and documentation of interactions between staff and the school librarian.
The largest challenge facing the board and administrators is how courses can be counted as being “offered” in the curriculum to meet state requirements.
In the past, if a district offered a course but no students enrolled in it, the course could still considered as “offered” to meet state course of study requirements.
In a shift from that practice, the DE now requires students to be enrolled in any class before it can be considered as “offered.”
In another change, the DE will no longer accept college classes as meeting course offering requirements unless a minimum of five students are enrolled in the same class.
In a school board work session Wednesday, December 4, high school principal Lorna Paxson outlined a plan to meet the new “offer-teach” requirements.
She said currently the Diagonal district is short two math courses and one course each in science, social studies, and English.
She suggests adding pre-algebra, general math or technical math courses to satisfy the math requirements.
Science could be satisfied by adding a physical science course or extending physics and chemistry into full year courses.
Modern world history, current events or economics courses could be added to satisfy the social studies requirement.
A speech course or fundamentals of writing course could bring the English offerings into compliance.
Because of its 28E agreement with the Mount Ayr district, courses Diagonal students take during their shared time in Mount Ayr can be counted in Diagonal’s “offer-teach” course offerings. The possible additional courses outlined by Paxson, however, are in addition to the number of courses DHS students already take in Mount Ayr.
Staffing to fill any new course offerings poses a challenge to a district as small as Diagonal.
Seeking teachers with multiple certifications or asking current staff to obtain additional certifications are two possibilities.
Paxson said some of the suggested new courses could be offered through Iowa Learning Online, a DE sanctioned avenue to offer coursework to students. However, she added, school districts must seek a waiver from the DE if they exceed more than two such classes.
Scheduling additional classes during the school day also poses a challenge.
Possible solutions to allow the adding of more classes could include shortening class periods or lengthening the school day or school year.
Course electives might need to be reduced to ensure students enroll in the prescribed number of required courses during their high school careers.
If the Diagonal district is unable to meet the “offer-teach” mandate, it could lose its state accreditation and state funding.
An alternative would be the adoption of whole grade sharing at the high school level with another school district.
Under this arrangement, the Diagonal High School would be dissolved, but K-8 would remain intact.
The DE report strongly suggested the Diagonal board consider the whole grade sharing route. In fact, the DE wanted documented proof the school board had at least discussed the whole grade sharing option.
To satisfy that suggestion, board members circulated a flow chart outlining steps for whole grade sharing in the event the DE won’t accept the district’s plan to meet the “offer-teach” mandate.
“I know I don’t think that’s what we want,” said Amy Kelsey, school board president. “I think we want to learn what we’re going to do about offer and teach and meeting it. That’s what we want to know… because that’s what we’re going to do.”
Late last week district administrators sent to the DE a report answering the citation items and offering narrative comments showing progress on any items not yet fulfilled.
The district now awaits a response from the DE.