SCHS counselors present changes

Sioux Center High School assistant principal Mark Hulshof, counselor Julie Oldenkamp, principal Brent Town and counselor Grant Willits present for informational purposes several changes.

SIOUX CENTERClass rankings and how to handle students who aren’t on track to graduate by their fourth year were among the topics brought forward to the Sioux Center School District Board of Education’s work session Monday night.

The issues discussed were for informational purposes, seeking feedback from the school board members.

As such, no action items were taken for these discussion topics, and Sioux Center High School counselors Julie Oldenkamp and Grant Willits will be moving forward with these plans.

The first item discussed by Oldenkamp and Willits was their plan to no longer report student rankings starting with the class of 2021, although that information will still be taken by the school and available from the counselors in the event it is needed, say to meet a university request.

Oldenkamp has seen negatives from disclosing to students their rankings, especially when a student who is scoring well is overshadowed by a large number of successful peers.

“It’s hard to say, ‘I’m not even in the top half of my class and I have a 3.3 GPA.’ So this can really be negative for the kids when they’re in a class of high GPAs,” Oldenkamp said.

In that regard, class rankings aren’t particularly useful in giving a good idea of a particular student’s academic success, since it’s also dependent on the success of that entire grade.

Willits said class rank doesn’t seem to matter much to the students, either. In his experience, students are more focused on their GPAs.

About 64 other schools in Iowa have stopped disclosing student rankings as well, as it’s a trend that’s been catching on.

Oldenkamp and Willits didn’t see any practical benefits in keeping the class ranks as a part of disclosed information, now that it’s not a piece of information that many universities or colleges use anymore for admissions.

“At this time, there is no longer any merit or value beyond here,” Willits said.

“It is something we could still have access to. We’d always have access to it, but it’d be a matter if we would report it out,” Oldenkamp said.

Even the students who speak during graduation aren’t determined by their class rankings, per se. The two speakers are the class president and the student with the overall top score.

“Let’s say we have five 4.0 GPA students, which is about what we have each year,” Oldenkamp said. “We still usually have to decide by their ACT score who the speaker is.”

Superintendent Gary McEldowney agreed that the change would likely be for the better.

Changing this does not mean a change in policy, which would require board action. Rather, this is a change in practices for the high school counselors.

Hold back juniors

The next item pertained to students not advancing to their senior year if they aren’t on track to graduate in that same academic year.

In the current system, a student not on schedule to graduate in their fourth year is simply considered to be in the 12th grade again.

“We’d rather have them be in the 11th grade more than once and 12th grade once,” Willits said.

Oldenkamp and Willits see merit in not automatically moving such students to the 12th grade. Rather, they want to take into consideration credits and the types of credits to earn that distinction of being a senior and having these serious talks with students in their junior years about their options.

“We don’t want to declare you a senior until you are within range of graduating in an academic year,” Willits said.

Different schools have handled this in different ways. Willits said that some schools have it where a student isn’t considered a sophomore until they have a certain number of credits.

On a practical level, Willits said changing this mostly impacts the digital categorization of that student in the district’s Infinite Campus system.

That’s because a lot of the messages and notifications a student gets through Infinite Campus depends on their grade level. For senior students, that means a lot of meetings about graduating and graduation that wouldn’t be relevant to students about to repeat their senior year.

For some students, this would provide a bit of a reality check when they are told they would not advance to the 12th grade, Willits said.

But part of the challenge is that a lot of those students not on a path to graduate in four years are English language learners in the school’s newcomer program.

To help ELL students in the newcomer program, Willits and Oldenkamp have explored starting summer school options that would cater to their additional English needs and help them get the English class credits they need in time for graduation.

“That really is a hang up,” Oldenkamp said. “By the time they learn enough English to get into the gen-ed classroom, they’re in their third year of high school. That’s where we can get stuck.”

Willits said for many five-year students, that fifth year is just to complete their English requirements.

“And that’s for the best case scenario if a kid progresses through as proscribed, which is hard to do given the dynamics of some of those students,” Willits said.

School board president Tim Gesink noted there is an age limit for students that occasionally comes into play. To enroll in school as a student, you cannot be 21 at the start of the school year.

“It can’t be a situation where they’re in here for seven years,” Gesink said.

“That’s a sad reality for someone in a newcomer class who’s 16 years old,” Willits said. “We said it’s going to take five years to graduate, and she’s since dropped out.”