Board tables GPA vote

Published 10:42 pm Tuesday, December 23, 2008

FRANKLIN—The debate over whether Franklin’s public schools have high enough academic standards for their athletes continues.

School board members last week tabled a committee’s recommendation that the minimum grade-point average for participation in extracurricular activities be raised from 1.25 to 1.5.

The committee is composed of local educators appointed by the board and headed by Assistant Superintendent Rick Clemons.

The proposal presented by the committee would have required that students maintain a 1.5 GPA starting with the 2009-10 school year. The GPA would be based on cumulative grades from the first and second nine weeks of the first semester and the first and second nine weeks of the second semester for high school students. For middle school students, the grades would come from the cumulative average of all six grading periods.

After an explanation of the new proposal, a heated debate ensued.

Most school board members seemed in favor of raising the minimum GPA up to 2.0 so that its standards fall in line with most other Virginia school systems.

Board member Robert Meredith asked the members to state the reasons they suggested only raising the requirement to 1.5 instead of 2.0.

“At what point in time does it happen that we try getting our children to rise to the occasion?” Meredith asked.

Sam Jones, Franklin High School principal and committee participant, answered by acknowledging the concern for such low GPA requirements but spoke of reservations. “Members of the school board express a sincere concern for this issue, but we had reservations about jumping to a 2.0,” Jones said. “We felt that we would raise it in increments rather than make a decision that would have an adverse effect on the students.”

Jones asserted that raising the requirement too high would mean that many students would ultimately be excluded from sports and other activities. Jones warned that this could have adverse effects on that population.

“Many of these children come to school because they are on the ‘team.’ You take that away and we might not see them at all,” he said.

Jones explained that some students in the Franklin City School system depend on extracurricular activities, like sports, to learn discipline and structure. He also said a lot of Franklin’s children become better students as a by-product of extracurricular activities.

Clemons presented numbers to back Jones’ statement.

“Out of nearly 130 student athletes in our school system, 32 of them had below a 2.0 at the beginning of the school year,” Clemons said. “That means nearly a fourth would have been ineligible this year. We believe that if we can just meet those children where they are now, maybe we have a better chance of helping them.”

Board member Johnetta Nichols then made a suggestion. “I agree with what has been said. But, that number 2.0 has to be the answer. I have an idea that I think can accommodate the needs expressed by the committee but still get us to a 2.0.”

Nichols recommended setting the minimum requirement at 2.0 but allowing students who do not meet that standard the opportunity to play only if they attend mandatory tutoring.

“I’m confident that some of these kids will see some improvement in their grades with a little extra work put in,” she said. “I’m a believer that tutoring is going to help them. And this way, they still have the opportunity to play.”

When the proposal came up for a vote, school board Chairman Bill Scarboro was not satisfied.

He told the committee to go back and try again, and the rest of the board agreed.

“I’m not ready to vote on this thing because I don’t think we have heard everything that needs to be heard,” Scarboro said. “I want you to go back and think out of the box on how we are going to make these kids succeed.”

The board determined that it would discuss the matter once more when it reconvenes in January.