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An online survey of 100 Beaufort County high school employees indicates a policy adopted last year to tighten academic standards for athletes and other students involved in extracurricular activities has produced mixed results.
School district staff presented results of the anonymous survey to Board of Education members Tuesday, saying they send a message that more must be done to ensure the policy is applied uniformly across the district.
Twenty-three employees who responded to the survey said the policy was implemented effectively in their schools. Fifteen said it was not, and 62 said they weren't sure or had another opinion.
About half of employees surveyed said the stricter standards have made a difference in student performance.
"The message we see is 'It depends,' " Superintendent Valerie Truesdale told board members. "It depends on the coach, it depends on the athletic director, it depends on the school."
Sean Alford, the district's chief of instructional services, said he will meet with principals and athletics directors during the first week of January to discuss the policy.
"For an organization of our size, one would expect to have some strong points and expect to have some areas that need to be improved," he said. "We will go through the results and see if we can close some gaps."
Alford said the district will address assertions that the policy has been enforced more strictly for athletes than for those involved in clubs and other extracurricular activities.
<strong>"A GOOD FIRST STEP'</strong>
The policy, adopted by the board in November 2008, requires all county high school students involved in extracurricular activities to turn in bi-weekly grade reports from their teachers. If a student has a 76 average or lower in any class, he or she will be required to attend tutoring sessions.
Students who do not attend tutoring or do not make sufficient progress could lose eligibility for the activity. A meeting among school administrators, the student, his or her parents, the teacher involved and the coach or activity sponsor will be held before eligibility is revoked, according to the policy.
Principals and athletic directors said only a handful -- if any -- students have had to miss a game or other extracurricular event as a result of the policy.
"The policy isn't (designed) to hold anybody out of competition," said Lew Kent, athletics director at Hilton Head Island High School. "That's not why they have it. It's to make athletes accountable for their grades, and I think it's a good first step."
Hilton Head High football coach Tim Singleton said the current policy is well-intentioned, but he doubts it should be uniformly applied. He believes each coach should be allowed to establish his or her own academic guidelines -- with the contributions of parents, teachers and administrators from that particular school -- based on the needs of his or her team.
Singleton said he hopes coaches' suggestions will be taken into account if a revised policy is written next month.
"We don't all have an identical situation. It might be the same type of picture, but you can't paint that picture with the same brush," Singleton said. "They're different colors.<strong> </strong>You have to be able to adapt and adjust based on your kids' needs."
<strong>'ON THE SAME PAGE'</strong>
Several principals and athletics directors said the policy is motivating students to improve academic performance, but they agree it hasn't been easy to put in place.
"We've had some students who are hard-headed about coming to tutoring," said Jerry Linn, athletics director at Beaufort High School. "But I've encouraged my coaches not to give up on them. ... If we just throw them by the wayside and dismiss them from a team, what else are they going to do?"
In nearly all cases, coaches have been able to speak with students or their parents to find ways to get players to tutoring and keep them eligible, he said.
The policy also requires substantial paperwork, including bi-weekly grade reports signed by teachers for the hundreds of students involved in extracurricular activities. Students also are required to either sign in or have teachers sign slips showing they attended each after-school tutoring or study hall session.
"The paperwork is a monster," Kent said. "But they're adapting. The implementation is getting better as it goes along."
Bob Anderson, principal at Bluffton High School agreed, saying compliance has improved during each athletics season as teachers and coaches get used to it. Including this winter's season, the policy has been in effect for four seasons.
"These kids know we're checking on them, and that's the most important thing," he said.<strong>
John Drafts, athletics director and boys basketball coach at Battery Creek High School, said his students attend study hall regularly, and anecdotal evidence shows the structure has been good for players.
"I think it has helped all of us," he said. "At least we're all on the same page."