District rides out rules ruckus

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NMPED > Confusion swirls around changes for graduation

By Tris DeRoma

A number of school districts in the state remain unclear regarding just what it takes for students to graduate from high school. A recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican detailed how much of that had to do with repeated miscommunication with the New Mexico Public Education Department, as well as a confusing set of alternative requirements issued by the NMPED.

The confusion came to light at a recent meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee, where it was announced that the state’s school districts, in light of the confusion, would be able to create their own requirements — but just for this year’s seniors.

One of the new requirements is the addition of half a credit to the graduation requirements.

“We’ve traditionally required 24 credits to graduate, and now we will require 24 and a half credits to graduate, starting with this year’s freshman class,” Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Gene Schmidt said of the changes.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn said they’ve added the half credit to their elective courses,

“Because that gave us the most flexibility,” he said, noting whether a student is choosing a college or pursuing a career path right out of high school, students will have plenty of options as to where to apply that credit.
NMPED has also tacked on a requirement that at some point during a student’s high school career, they have to take on a community project, otherwise known as a “service learning class.” Washburn said they are already working on where to fit it into the curriculum.

According to Schmidt, this should not be a problem.

“Our students, starting in kindergarten, have always been famous for doing these types of things,” said Schmidt. “Right now, we have kids raising money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. In the past they’ve had shoe drives and all sorts of projects that were designed to get them looking beyond the borders of Los Alamos County, so this will be an easy adaptation.”

While many superintendents across the state have appeared before the committee to testify about the problem, Schmidt and Washburn didn’t have to, because, they said, they made sure graduation requirements for high school were solidified long ago.

One problematic issue the Santa Fe New Mexican mentioned was the fact that due to a series of memos the NMPED sent out recently, it was unclear whether the NMPED still allowed high school students to substitute marching band for physical education. Apparently, many students in districts across the state had taken advantage of that waiver, and now they weren’t sure if they would be able to graduate.

According to Schmidt and Washburn, the ambiguity was taken care of by LAPS several years ago.

“Because of our district’s commitment to crossing t’s and dotting i’s, we’ve already addressed the state requirement for PE that is now causing some real consternation in other districts across the state,” said Washburn. “...We picked up on that change being on the way. We dealt with that on a district level, and now what you’re seeing is other districts are catching up. They are where they are, and we are where we are.”

Schmidt said he remembered the change was hard for Los Alamos parents to accept, but he said if the district prohibited the substitution, it would be better for everyone.

“It was a real sadness to the community,” Schmidt said.

“We had a lot of parents that liked getting that marching band credit because it allowed their kids to take an extra enrichment or reading class,” Schmidt said. “They liked their kids taking additional rigorous courses because it freed up that PE requirement.”