AP Gift Discussed

Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD — A $10,000 anonymous gift with strings prompted discussion and several motions at the County school board’s August meeting.

Ultimately, the board would welcome the gift to support the AP program in the wake of an ending grant program that began in 2008, but cut one of the connecting strings that would have rewarded teachers for student achievement.

The donor, it was noted, stipulated that funds go toward participation of instructors in summer professional development in Advanced Placement (AP); tutoring beyond school hours for AP courses and tests (including Saturday sessions); transportation and other costs for AP meetings or review sessions; teacher awards and incentives: $100 for each student scoring 3-5 (a qualifying score for receiving college credit) or $500 for summer course development; and AP specific materials.

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The $10,000, however, was not projected to be enough to fund all of the requests, even minus the funding for incentives for student performance. School administrators had figured a projected cost of over $25,000 for the AP program. Still, with or without the donation, the AP courses (which currently include offerings in English language, English literature and composition, calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry and Virginia/US history) would continue. Dr. Smith said it would not have an effect of their offering of AP classes; that, he said, would be an enrollment-based decision.

“If you don’t accept it, what would the school board have to do? What amount of money would we have to do?” asked school board member Dr. Lawrence Varner.

“We would…do what we were planning to do, and that’s cover any of the required training from within our current budgeted funds without the incentives,” Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith commented.

A big sticking point on the donor’s funding list was incentives for teachers for student performance. While the grant-supported AP program has incentivized teachers factoring the number of students achieving a qualifying score of three or more on the AP test, it is coming to an end. The donor sought to continue incentives, but some board members took issue with giving an incentive to some teachers, but not others.

“I feel that if we have teachers that also have to have special training for the dual enrollment classes and they have certain syllabi they have to follow, they have to be approved by (the) community college and by the college and the university and I don’t see that they’re getting any incentives for their results,” school board member Sherry Honeycutt commented. “And, if you look through the results of the students that have taken the AP classes, it’s not…the results were not as strong as I thought they would’ve been. So, the question is why not? It is because of the teacher training…what is it? What are the results telling us?”

She added, “I am not in favor of having a payment to teachers for the results of the students because there are so many different reasons the student might not pass a test and the teacher might have given excellent instruction and deserve a reward, but…the student passing counters all of the teacher’s efforts and strengths. Therefore, I’m not in favor of paying for incentives.”

Dr. Varner, however, highlighted it’s someone trying to incentivize a program that he loves and, if he wants to spend the money, “it’s not hurting anything.”

Board member Beulah Womack offered at one point in the discussion that they need to think about it and renegotiate with the individual making the donation; some school board members were under the impression that the donor’s request would mean additional cost.

“…It’s not a matching fund gift and some of these costs, the training, the travel…those kinds of things…we’ll pay for…,” Dr. Smith said.

They have a teacher on staff who would be teaching a dual enrollment class and needs to add two graduate level courses in order to be fully aligned with the dual enrollment requirements, it was cited. The school system is paying for that tuition, which is not new.

“So we’re going to be providing the basic level of support for the AP classes as well. That’s necessary, with or without this donation,” Dr. Smith said. “The thing that sets the intended use apart is the incentive payments to teachers and, outside of that regional grant, I’m not aware that that’s ever been done before.”

Dr. Varner rhetorically offered that they should have declined the grant.

“I’m just saying, if we have the mentality that we should not be incentivizing these people with money that we’re not spending out of our budget, then we should have declined that grant, as well,” he said.

Dr. Varner offered that he agreed that they shouldn’t be held hostage and have to give more money, but that “as long as we don’t have to give any more than what we have budgeted, I don’t see the harm in it for a program that, hopefully, we all support.”

But over the course of the discussion, the board preferred to not have the distinction.

“I have a major problem giving an incentive to this group of teachers and giving an incentive to this group of teachers…Dual enrollment teachers have to have invested in getting a master’s degree. AP teachers don’t have to do that,” Board member Linda Leatherwood commented.

She noted they are supposed to take training, though it’s her understanding that not all of them do.

In the end, the board would agree to go back and ask the donor to consider the donation without the incentives for teachers.

“So basically we would be using his money for things that we would be paying for any way?” asked Dr. Varner.

The superintendent agreed.

If the donor agreed to give the funds without the stipulation, they would apply the funds to the support of the AP program. It would supplant what they were going to spend; and then that money would be available for some other purpose and some instructional development.

“So, basically, this person would be giving $10,000 to the general fund. That’s the net effect,” Dr. Varner maintained.

Board Recognition

*School board members recognized Dr. Osa Sue Dowdy for her service on the school board. Dove, presenting a plaque, thanked her for her work on the school improvement team, work on the student affairs committee, time spent listening and deciding disciplinary actions, and her overall commitment to the students of the county.

“It has been a pleasure,” Dr. Dowdy commented after the presentation, “and I have enjoyed working with the school board and I look forward to maybe helping on some committees.”

New former board member Dr. Ellery Sedgwick, Dove cited, was unable to attend the meeting and would be recognized at another time.