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BAM! Leader gone, concerns raised

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – When the Bullitt Advanced Math and Science program was unveiled four years ago, it was a totally unchartered course for local educators, students and parents.

With the resignation of the original coordinator/teacher and the decision by several of the students that they would rather return to their home schools, local officials are facing a few bumps in the road.

But superintendent Keith Davis said the program is very solid and provides students with a unique opportunity.

“It is not for everyone,” said Davis. “I think the program is most definitely worth having but students (and parents) will have to decide if it is for them.”

With the program, a tested group of students are part of a targeted program. They are part of the Riverview campus and are also part of the Jefferson Community and Technical College program where they will receive two years of paid college courses before they graduate.

The first chink in the program’s armor was revealed during the June meeting of the Bullitt County Public School Board.

Christy Harper’s daughter was part of the original group of BAMS students and she loved to watch her child grow and push herself during that time.

“I thank you for the opportunity you have given my daughter,” said Harper.

Despite some times when she might have had thoughts of dropping out of the program, Harper said that was not an option.

At the same time, as a mother, she understands some of the frustrations being felt by the students. Much of it is tied back to a lack of communication.

“The communication is not there,” said Harper.

She encouraged the board to work on solutions to improve that line of communication. A solution might be to have a counselor to work with the students.

“They need someone to talk to,” said Harper.

She said it is tough on the kids to not be able to participate in clubs and activities at their home school. Many of those organizations meet during the school days when BAMS students are at Riverview.

With six of the original 20 students dropping out of the program, she said there are issues which must be addressed.

T.J. Rayhill is one of those who will be dropping out in his fourth year.

“I thought it was going to be awesome,” said Rayhill.

He admitted that he was a bit arrogant – thinking he was the brightest of the bright. In working with teacher Kelly Cleavinger, Rayhill said he was able to realize that there was a whole group of smart students in the program.

More humbled, Rayhill said his biggest concern occurred when he started to talk with colleges and realized that some credits would not transfer. In one situation, his college credits meant that he would enter as a junior, losing a lot of scholarship money and two years of eligibility in football.

“I loved the first two years,” said Rayhill.

But the lack of having anyone for the students to talk with is a major concern. At JCTC, Rayhill said the staff is not prepared to deal with 15-16 year old students. And the students were taking 20 hours of college credit courses, which was too much without having any assistance.

He would like to see a person dedicated to working with the BAMS students and their issues.

Alice Harris, whose daughter is in the program, is another proponent of better communications.

She said the parents were informed on June 4 that Cleavinger would be leaving but have heard nothing since. The website has been deleted and summer activities cancelled.

The lack of communication is a major concern. And there are things such as accidentally leaving the BAMS participants out of the Bullitt East yearbook that hurt the students.

She also felt a counselor dedicated to the program would be a major plus.

“These are special students who will do special things some day,” said Harris.

Following the meeting, Davis said he is very proud of the innovative program undertaken by the district. At the same time, he understands there will need to be changes made.

Cleavinger resigned and Davis said that he was an exceptional person who may have liked creating the program more than refining and maintaining it.

“BAMS would not have become as successful as it has without his dedicated work but I feel sure that we will find a suitable replacement,” said Davis.

The superintendent did not deny that there are issues, such as miscommunication, which must be fixed.

“It is hard to say if it's just growing pains or something that was more intentional, but either way, we will fix it,” said Davis.

One thing that must be realized it that BAMS is not a regular high school program.

“The parents are highly involved and most appreciate what we have created for their kids and I think most kids like it very much,” said Davis. “It is a very challenging program and it is not a regular high school.”

He used his own son as an example. While qualifying for the program, Davis’ son would rather attend Bullitt East High so he could play in the band.

By being part of the BAMS program, Davis said students would miss some of their normal high school experiences.

Since the beginning of the BAMS program, all three high schools now have more opportunities for students to earn college credits and still remain in their home setting. Davis said that would allow students more options in getting an accelerated education and a head start on their college career.

He wasn’t sure about the confusion over the transfer of college credits but that is an issue that would be addressed.

Davis also felt there could be some things put into place that would improve the communication within the program.

“We are preparing students to be very successful in high level math- and science-oriented degree programs,” said Davis.