Decatur Superintendent of Education Ed Nichols has put a plan on the table he said will impact district graduation rates and give students more opportunities for elective courses.
The proposal, if approved by the board Feb. 12, would lower the number of required credits for graduation from 28 to 24 and give students the opportunity to opt out of the middle years program, a component of International Baccalaureate.
"What I am ultimately asking the board to do is to put Decatur in line with the state and what other systems require, and allow students to create the academic track they are interested in," Nichols said.
Many state school systems, such as Hartselle, Athens, Morgan County and Madison City, require 24 credits to graduate.
Austin High Principal Don Snow supports the change because there have been cases when students have earned enough credits to graduate under state requirements but lacked an elective course that Decatur requires.
"I wonder what our graduation rate would be if we were like other schools in the area," Snow said.
Decatur's 68 percent graduation rate is 4 percent lower than the state average.
Nichols' plan keeps the IB program and the academic requirements for advanced diplomas but also mirrors what the state Board of Education adopted in its "Plan 2020."
Students still will be required to earn four credits each in English, math, science and social studies.
Beginning next year, however, incoming ninth-graders will start on a diploma track that maintains 24 credits to graduate but gives the option of earning three of those credits on one academic track.
Instead of passing a combination of arts education and foreign language, for example, a student may earn the credits in one field.
State Superintendent Thomas Bice said the state's objective is for all students to enter the ninth grade "prepared and with a four-year plan that addresses their individual academic- and career-interest needs."
Without policy change, that is difficult for Decatur students because all are required to participate in the middle-years programs, which locks them into certain academic tracks until the 10th grade.
"I have heard so many complaints about our old system because students just don't have that many choices," Oak Park Principal Ashley McIntyre said.
He said he polled his students, and they were interested in taking such classes, as robotics, technology, drama and home economics.
"The middle-school years are critical, and we have to get students connected to something they like in school," McIntyre said.
With existing rules, students in grades six through 10 are required to take 50 hours each of technology, a foreign language and art every school year.
"This leaves very little free time for anything else," McIntyre said.
Austin seniors Lamont Crittendon and Bobby Lee Jones will not benefit from the change, but they support it.
Jones said he wanted to take another business tech course and French but couldn't because Decatur requirements locked him into a curriculum with few choices for electives.
"I started taking Spanish as my foreign language, and I couldn't change this," he said.
Crittendon said he wanted to take "more fun classes," like video production, and more science electives, like marine biology and anatomy.
He used one of his electives to be with his football teammates, "which left no time for me to do much else. I like the idea that future students will have more choices."
Nichols said the 28-credit requirement makes it difficult on students who transfer to Decatur, especially if they are juniors and seniors.
Students who come from a system that requires 24 credits to graduate are usually behind the day they enroll, he said.
"We've lost kids because of this," Nichols said.
Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.