by ALEXANDRA RETTER
The number of credits Winona Area Learning Center (ALC) students must pass to graduate was recently reduced to the state minimum by a split vote of the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board at its April 16 meeting.
The language arts requirement has been decreased from nine credits to eight; the social studies requirement has been decreased from eight credits to seven; and the electives requirement has been decreased from 19 credits to 14. ALC students will take 43 total semester credits to graduate. The minimum state requirement for high school graduation is 43 semester credits. Winona Senior High School (WSHS) students must pass 54 semester credits to graduate.
The change comes amid the ALC working with an advocate from the Southeast-Metro Regional Center of Excellence on an improvement plan due to the school’s low four-year graduation rate. The ALC’s graduation rate was 28.8 percent in 2017, 13.2 percent in 2018 and 18 percent in 2019.
To enroll at the ALC, students must meet at least one of 11 state-determined criteria, including being behind academically, expecting or parenting a child, being chemically dependent, having been expelled and having experienced mental health struggles. Students are not allowed to enroll at the ALC to graduate ahead of their class, and students must finish a minimum of one full credit at the ALC to be able to graduate in accordance with the 43-credit requirement.
Board member Michael Hanratty said he was not in agreement with changing the graduation requirements at the ALC. “I don’t think it’s equitable. I think we’re changing the goal line for those students,” Hanratty said. “I think we have a system for inequities, and that’s the IEPs [individualized education program], where if they were to have a disability, then we’re assessing for that … But if there’s not a disability there, I feel they should be held to the same standards. And if there’s life circumstances, which there totally is, and I’m empathetic to that, but that’s the direction where we need to target, and not changing the needs for graduation requirements.”
Regarding the reduction in required elective credits, ALC and Goodview Elementary School Principal Emily Cassellius said current staffing and class options at the ALC limit the number of elective opportunities students have there. “Right now, we’re looking at students who take several art classes because — and there’s nothing against art, art is wonderful — but I don’t know if maybe four art classes in a year is necessary,” Cassellius said.
Board member Allison Quam asked whether ALC students could take elective classes at WSHS. Cassellius replied that they are able to do so. “It’s tricky because our schedules aren’t the same, so when you have that travel time to and from the high school, that can affect students,” Cassellius said. “When students leave the high school to come over to the ALC, there’s a lot of students that just don’t want to go back, for whatever reason. It didn’t work out for them. They’re not comfortable. So for some of our students, that isn’t an option.”
At the board’s March 5 meeting, Quam said she was concerned about the reduction in the number of language arts and social studies credits ALC students must pass to graduate under the proposal. “I find that troubling, that we’re reducing those things that build up reading, writing, thinking and civics skills,” Quam said.
The graduation requirement change at the ALC was approved in a 4-3 split vote, with board members Jim Schul, Steve Schild and Tina Lehnertz, as well as board chair Nancy Denzer, voting for the relaxed requirements.
The board also voted 4-3 to approve a middle school ALC program. Two full-time teachers will be hired for the program at a cost of $136,000.
The program, which will be housed at Winona Middle School, will include one session for fifth and sixth graders and another session for seventh and eighth graders. There will be 15 students in each session.
Language arts, math and science will be covered during the sessions. Work on social skills and community service will also take place as part of the sessions.
The WAPS Board will next meet on Thursday, May 7, at 6 p.m. The meeting may be viewed at https://winonak12mnus.finalsite.com/district/school-board/live-stream.