Some Johnston County high school students will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief — final exams in certain courses will count for just 15 percent of their grades this semester, down from the standard 25 percent.
The change applies to students taking state-mandated end-of-course exams, which are required in basic algebra, English and biology classes.
Last month, the Johnston County Board of Education made the change on the recommendation of the state Board of Education.
Superintendent Ed Croom advised the board to give the exams less weight this year. “They’re new, and we have no idea what kind of impact they’re going to have,” he said.
School board Peggy Smith, former principal of East Clayton Elementary School, said the new tests are purposely harder than their predecessors. “These are not like any tests (students) have taken before,” she said. “‘Rigorous’ is not the word for it.”
But board member Butler Hall, former principal of North Johnston High School, said he was worried that knocking down the percentage would lead to less accountability among students. He was concerned also that if the board lowered the percentage now, it could stay there.
“Next year, we’ll be looking at the same (issue) again,” he said.
Croom responded: “That’s right, but at least we’ll know what the tests look like.”
Hall and the rest of the board approved an emergency measure that will lower the stakes of the final exams scheduled this month. The board will look at the issue again in January.
The board approved next year’s calendar, with the first say of school on Aug. 26 and the last day on June 11.
The committee in charge of putting the calendar together faced a few tough decisions because of changes in state regulations.
Under the changes, the school system had to increase the amount of instructional time. It could do this in one of two ways – by adding five full school days or 25 hours of instruction within the traditional 180-day calendar.
The committee went with the second option after nearly two months of debate and feedback from parents.
“It did take a lot of discussion and a lot of compromise, but at the end of the day, they were on board with this calendar,” said Robin Little, the school system’s chief business officer.
The new calendar includes two weeks of Christmas vacation – starting December 23 and ending Jan. 3 – and schedules spring break for the same week as Easter. Students get the Monday after Easter off as well, allowing families who have gone out of town more time to return.
Those two provisions were popular with parents, Little said.
After 19 years of service, deputy superintendent Shelly Marsh is retiring. The board honored him with a plaque, which Croom presented during the meeting.
Croom said Marsh is a well loved figure across Johnston County. Employees and other people involved with the schools all seem to know him.
“I can’t go anywhere without hearing, ‘Is Shelly Marsh still working?’” Croom said.
Marsh has been an educator for 47 years. He came to Johnston County in 1993 as an assistant principal at Cleveland Middle School. He was principal there from 1999 to 2004, when he announced his retirement.
He came out of retirement the same year to work as an assistant principal at Smithfield-Selma High School, and he has worked in the schools in some capacity since then.
Marsh said he plans to retire to his farm in Chatham County and volunteer in the Johnston County schools. He insists there’s no chance he’ll come out of retirement, but he said he enjoyed working in the schools here during a period of tremendous growth and change.
“It was a more progressive system with facilities and academics, and I was glad to be a part of it,” he said.