The state Board of Education voted Oct. 6 to raise the credits needed to graduate from 22 to 24, with fewer electives, beginning with students who graduate from high school in 2010. So this year's eighth graders will need to keep the requirements in mind next year when planning their courses to take in high school.
"Honestly, I don't think it will be that big of an issue," said Sikeston Senior High School principal Tom Williams. "I think it's a good thing statewide, and I think Sikeston has been on the cutting edge for some time by the number of credits required."
About 70 percent of high schools statewide already require 24 credits, and that's true for the local schools.
Key to the new requirements are one additional required course each in English, math, social studies and science, along with newly required half-
credit courses in health and personal finance.
Williams said the only course that will have to be implemented at Sikeston is a half credit of personal finance.
At Scott County Central High School, a half credit of personal finance is the only course that needs to be implemented, according to Gary Francis, principal at Scott County Central High School.
In order to comply with the changes, East Prairie R-2 superintendent Scott Downing said the high school will need to add half a credit more to English and one to science since the other credits were already in place.
"It wasn't a major change for us," Downing said.
Charleston R-1 superintendent Kevin Miller also said the changes won't make a huge difference for the high school, which will have to add a credit of math and science.
"We'll just have more kids taking math and science longer," Miller said. "We have room in the schedule, but it means we will have to hire one additional teacher."
Miller said he sees the changes as a benefit for the students and the state. "We were considering increasing science and math credits before state took this and I think it's a positive move," he said.
However, a student who likes business and music would be forced to make some choices between the two because a fewer number of electives will be offered, Miller said, adding summer school may become more than the remedial situation it currently is.
Dr. Cindy Amick, curriculum and instruction director for New Madrid County R-1 Schools, said the high school will have to add one credit of communication arts, science and social studies and a half credit of personal finance.
"The main change for us is in our requirements, and now we will have seven electives," Amick said.
Amick expressed a concern about the decreased number of electives having an effect on the vocational courses offered by the district.
"We're wanting vocational courses to remain the same so we're looking at making some of those courses count as a math or science credit," Amick said. Rhonda Ratledge, counselor at Kelly High School, said the eight semesters of English will also keep students from graduating a semester early and may also have an impact in summer school attendance.
"We'll have to think about those students who aren't going to be successful each semester," Ratledge noted.
Currently language and math are offered during the high school summer school, but adding science and social studies may be an option in the future, Ratledge said.
But Ratledge thinks for the most part, students will perform well with the changes.
"A lot of times when we require more out of the kids, they will give you more," Ratledge said.
Currently New Madrid County doesn't offer high school summer school. Amick said district officials will be discussing with its board of education which direction they will go these new requirements.
"The state's intent from having done this is for students to, hopefully, choose to go to college and to have more emphasis on academics," Amick said. "But it may deter students from going to college."
Among things Kelly officials will have to consider, Ratledge said, include which grades they want to offer the half credit of health and personal finance, at what grade level do they want those to be offered, what department will offer the courses -- business or math -- and which classrooms will be used for the courses.
The changes in curriculum must be made before February, when the incoming freshmen enroll for the new school year, Ratledge pointed out. And the changes must be approved by the school board, she said.
"Even though the classes may not be offered next year, we still have to have a plan in place and we'll need to know where we're at as far as faculty and who's going to teach it and in which classrooms," Ratledge said.
More changes may be ahead for high schools as the state board continues to focus on the possibility of a high school exit exam and differentiated diplomas, Williams pointed out.
"We're setting higher expectations for our kids," Williams said. "And that's a good thing for our students."