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Jaffrey-Rindge holds Saturday school for struggling learners

JAFFREY — The Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School launched a new tutoring program this month that gives students with failing grades the chance to catch up on their schoolwork on Saturday mornings.

The weekly Saturday school program differs from the traditional Saturday detentions the school has held in that students are not there because of disciplinary matters, but because they need extra help completing their assignments, according to Principal Ryan Early. Students who are failing a class either do not grasp the material or have had too many absences to catch up, Early wrote in a presentation delivered to the Jaffrey-Rindge School Board on Feb. 18.

Supt. Jim O’Neill said Wednesday that the district has explored alternative methods to enhance student learning and provide additional help for struggling learners. “[Saturday school] is not new to public education, but it is to our district,” he said, noting that it does not take the place of detention.

Middle school disciplinary referrals to the office are at 181 so far this year, which is less than half of what they were in Early’s first year as principal in 2009-10; in that year, the school had 518 referrals. But in 2011-12, there were 816 disciplinary referrals to the office, which illustrates that behavioral issues have not consistently declined.

Middle school staff identified 45 students, or 12 percent of the middle school population, who had at least one failing grade at the end of the second quarter of the 2012-13 school year. But the reasons as to why students were failing varied. There were 15 instances of incomplete work, 28 cases of incomplete homework and 40 missing projects noted in teachers’ comments on students’ report cards. More than half had been absent from school at least five days.

Of the 45 students who had failing grades at the end of the second quarter, they were given two weeks to raise their grades or be assigned to the school’s first three-hour Saturday session on Feb. 16. Approximately 34 students attended that first session.

There are individual cases in which a student’s attendance at Saturday school is not possible, Early told the School Board. In those cases, the administration will work with the child’s family to develop an alternative plan to help the student catch up, he said.

Per collective bargaining agreements, teachers receive $29 an hour for the three-hour Saturday school, and the district deducts federal taxes, Social Security and Medicare from each teacher’s check, according to Finance Director Karen Gray. The program is funded through the co-curricular salary line item of the budget; messages left seeking expected costs for the program were not returned by press time Wednesday. At least one teacher per grade level for the Saturday sessions is the goal, Early said Wednesday, noting five teachers total is the ideal .

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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