By Melissa Fales
WARE – Effective immediately, a grade of 64 or less is a failing grade at all schools in the Ware School District. The School Committee met Sept. 23 to vote on the matter. While a 65 has always been the minimum passing grade at Ware Junior Senior High School, at the start of the school year the lowest passing grade at Ware Middle School (WMS) was a 60.
The decision to raise that number to 65 was made in an effort to have consistency in the grading process throughout the district. The impact trickles down to Stanley M. Koziol Elementary School (SMK) where students don’t earn letter grades, but teachers will still need to adjust their grading process accordingly. “It’s important for us to get this passing grade established now because the clock is ticking,” said Chairman Christopher Desjardins.
The issue of what should constitute a failing grade first came before the committee in August when they briefly considered lowering the passing grade at the high school from a 65 to a 60 in order to keep the grades in line with other area school districts. The committee ultimately decided that they didn’t want to lower the district’s expectations and academic standards in order to conform to what the other districts were doing.
During the discussion at the committee’s Sept. 2 meeting, it came to light that the passing grade at WMS was a 60. Despite the committee’s desire to have consistency between the schools, there was some concern about whether or not it was appropriate to change the established grading standards after the school year had already begun. At the suggestion of Superintendent Mary-Elizabeth Beach, the committee opted to use the WMS open house on Sept. 17 as an opportunity to speak with parents and staff about changing the lowest passing grade now or whether to wait for the next school year.
School Committee member Kara Brown said those questioned were very receptive to the idea. “Not one teacher or parent we spoke to at the open house was against changing the minimum passing grade to 65 immediately,” Brown said. Brown also said WMS Principal Robert Warren is on board with the decision to raise the passing grade.
At the meeting on Sept. 23, Kara Brown presented the table of letter grades and their corresponding numerical grades which is currently in use at the high school. According to the table, a student receiving a numerical grade between 65 and 69 receives a letter grade of D and a student receiving a numerical grade below 65 receives an F. The committee voted unanimously to approve the table for all district schools. The teachers at SMK who use a grading system of 1,2,3,4 will use the table as the basis for the rubric they use to determine their students’ grades.
Brown added that although tests and assignments have already been graded during the first few weeks of school, teachers have not yet entered any grades into the computer system that prepares report cards. When those grades are entered into the computer, any previously earned marks in the 60 to 64 range, considered passing grades at the time, will be entered into the system as a 65.
By Melissa Fales
WARE – An additional afternoon bus will be added to accommodate the students from Stanley M. Koziol Elementary School and Ware Middle School who are dropped off at 4 popular day care facilities in town. At the Sept. 16 School Committee meeting, Chairman Christopher Desjardins announced that arrangements have been made for the approximately 37 students who go to day care sites on Mountain View Drive, Coffey Hill Road, Monson Turnpike Road and Malboeuf Road in the afternoon to all ride together on a separate bus.
The bus is the committee’s solution to the district’s problem of bus overcrowding. At their Sept. 2 meeting, the committee acknowledged that the 75 new students who enrolled the district this school year do play a factor in the dilemma. However, because the 75 students are spread out across town, First Student was able to accommodate them without the need for an additional bus. When planning the bus routes for the year, First Student assumes round trip transportation from a student’s home to school.
The overcrowding became a problem on certain routes in the afternoon because parents asked for their children to be dropped off at day care facilities instead of at home. This led to additional students riding on buses that traveled by popular day cares.
The committee discussed the option of holding a lottery for the extra seats on those buses once all of the students who lived on that route had a guaranteed seat. However, it was unclear what would happen to those students who did not get a spot on the bus and how that would affect their families. Desjardins said the committee realized they needed to find an answer that would fit the needs of today’s working parents. “We spent the last 2 weeks trying to come up with a solution for this,” he said. “We can’t just expect people to change their work plans all of a sudden.”
Following conversations with First Student about how to tackle the problem, Desjardins said they decided to target 4 day care centers in town and add one bus to service those sites. The bus will hold 40 students, allowing for the possibility of others being added to the route.
Since the town is struggling with a budget deficit, and it’s the town that pays for the school district’s transportation, the committee initially thought adding an additional bus would be cost prohibitive. However, it appears that the additional bus will have a net cost to the town of only $1260.72. Desjardins explained that the bus will travel 22 miles per day for the remaining 168 days in the school year. The town is billed $2.695 per mile, for a total of $9960.72. However, First Student owes the town a $2700 fuel credit leftover from fiscal year 2009 which put in place during times of higher gas prices. The additional $6000 will come from a fuel tax savings that will be realized once the school district, rather than the bus company, begins purchasing the fuel for the buses. Because the school district doesn’t pay the state fuel tax on the gas, there will be a significant savings. Interim Town Manager Mary Tzambazakis has agreed that the remaining $1260.72 can be absorbed by the amount the town has already budgeted for school transportation. Desjardins said that when the bus contracts are sent out to bid in the future, they will include the additional bus.
The district is also reminding parents to follow the new procedure and give 3 days notice for any anticipated change to a drop-off location. SMK Principal Marlene DiLeo said too often parents are calling the school at 3 p.m. requesting a change to a drop-off location, leaving the school scrambling. Desjardins said parents don’t understand how complicated a small change can be. For a student to be dropped off at a different spot, the school needs to notify the bus company. The school also needs to pass on the name of the adult who will be picking up the child at the bus stop. “We will never leave a child at a bus stop with a person we don’t have a name for,” said Di Leo. When requesting a change to a drop-off location, parents are reminded to include all of the information requested on the form that went home with each student on the first day of school. At Desjardins’ suggestion, Superintendent Mary-Elizabeth Beach will look into having the form available on the district website.
Beach said the school district and First Student will continue to work together to evaluate transportation needs as the school year goes on. “We care about the students’ welfare and safety and we’re doing everything we can to make this work,” Beach said.