Columbia County students taking part in the Youth Challenge Academy at Fort Gordon now can transfer many of their grades if they return to the public school system.
The school board approved Tuesday a memorandum of understanding with the academy to accept the grades of many elective courses for students transferring into the school system.
“I think this is another great opportunity for students (academically) at risk to be able to maintain some of their coursework, return to school and graduate on time,” Superintendent Charles Nagle said prior to the board meeting.
Classes in which grades can transfer include physical education and wellness courses, money management and job skills courses and ROTC, Nagle said.
The rigor for many of those courses, Nagle said, extends beyond the scope required by the school system.
Still, Nagle said county alternative school Principal Jan’et Bishop will monitor the courses to make sure requirements are met.
Grades in core classes, such as math and science, won’t be accepted from transferring students.
The Youth Challenge Academy, operated by the U.S. Army National Guard, is a program to provide at-risk teens with academic training and life skills. Only those students who successfully complete the 17-month course can transfer their grades.
Also at the meeting, the school board approved elementary enrollment projections that show a slower growth rate than in years past.
For the 2012-13 school year, school officials expect 387 more elementary pupils, 56 fewer than the current year; 213 more pupils in middle schools; and 387 more high-schoolers.
“We’re clearly experiencing a decline in the birth rate,” Nagle told the board last month regarding the slowdown in elementary enrollment.
As evidence, Nagle presented to the board Columbia County birth totals dating back to 1987. The number of births peaked at 1,537 in 2006. Since then, those numbers have dropped to 1,444 in 2007, 1,464 in 2008 and 1,470 in 2009. Figures were not available for last year.
The birth rate is used by school officials to predict the number of potential kindergartners entering the school system five years later.
Aside from declining birth rates, another reason for the lower projections is the system’s new approach of just using the previous two years of enrollment growth to estimate future growth. In the past, school officials examined the previous four years of growth.
Last year, school officials used the four-year method and over-projected kindergarten enrollment by 142 pupils.
Nagle said the two-year strategy provides a more conservative estimate.
“I do not have a better plan for you,” Nagle told the board.
Those figures are important because the number of pupils determines the number of needed teachers. The number of teachers drive the budget projections, because about 90 percent of the budget is used to pay salaries.
Currently, the school system educates more than 24,000 pupils and employs about 1,700 educators.