Plan’s goal: lower student retentions

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Should students who are not reaching the needed level of learning be retained for a second year at the same grade?

Or should there be an attempt to provide extra learning opportunities to get that student up to the appropriate level?

After some interesting debate, the Bullitt County Public School Board voted to implement a new retention prevention program at the elementary school level.

Superintendent Keith Davis was challenged during his 2012-13 evaluation by the school board to develop and oversee a program to avoid retention of students.

“The main idea behind this initiative is the obvious truth that we should not send kids to the next grade if they are not ready,” said Davis. “On the other side, research is very clear that retention is highly correlated to eventual dropping out of school and that two retentions highly predict a dropout.”

In looking at the 2011-12 school year, Davis said 92 elementary students were retained.

In supplying those youngsters with another year of education, the cost to the district could be $700,000.

A task force looked at possible solutions and Progress Prep was born.

The biggest component is time. Under the proposed plan, it would cost around $100,000 to provide the resources needed.

This would include extra time and resources for 25 Saturday sessions and 40 summer sessions.

Davis said the extra work would be specifically geared toward the student’s needs.

Teachers would have to look at the student’s assessment data and develop an individual plan for each.

“We sometimes say a student fails but it could be us who fails the student if we stick him in a class that is way over  his head with inadequate supports and expects  him to somehow magically catch up to  his peers who already have a head start coming into school,” said Davis.

The goal is to match the student with an expert educator who will have the time to understand the youngster’s weaknesses and then have the time to fix the problem.

“We believe that we will be able to dramatically cut down on the need to retain a student in the same grade level,” said Davis, who added it would be a win-win situation.

In a much bigger picture, Davis said the entire community wins. Reducing the number of high school dropouts will decrease the burdens on society for such services as detention facilities and social services.

“I’ve got some big problems with this,” said board member Darrell Coleman, who eventually voted in favor of the proposal.

His concern was one of fairness. Coleman inquired who would be deciding whether a student is retained or is placed into this program.

Greg Schultz, assistant superintendent for student learning, said it would be the teacher and the parents who would decide the course of action.

Coleman said that administrators didn’t need to be part of the process because they aren’t aware of the individual student issues.

He agreed that the teacher and the parent should decide.

The retired teacher said that there are some students who need to be retained. Some, he said, are not ready to move forward.

Davis said if a student isn’t ready to move forward, it is up to the teachers to identify that student and find out what he needed to learn.

The identification of the students would occur in the first nine weeks of the upcoming school year. Then, the next nine weeks would be used to develop a plan.

By January 2015, it will be time to implement the learning plan to catch that particular student by the end of the school year.

“It’s pricey,” said Davis. There is a 12-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

And, if the $100,000 is not available in the upcoming budget, Davis said the board may not opt to move forward the first year.

The measure passed 4-0 with board member Roger Hayes not voting due to a lack of time to study the proposal.

In other business:

*The Bullitt County Foundation for Excellence will host its annual Derby Affair on Friday, April 25, at Millanova Winery.

This night of entertainment is the major fund-raiser for the organization which gave out over $12,000 in grants to teachers last year.

Tickets are available by contacting any school.

*The North Bullitt JROTC gave a presentation on the program, which is in its 30th year at the school.

All three high schools now have military programs. And the military service has now been designated as one of the career paths recognized as part of graduation requirements in the college and career readiness area.

*Work continues on the three college and career readiness centers at the high schools.

Work at North Bullitt and Bullitt East are on schedule to be ready before the start of school in August.

After getting its building pad issues resolved, Bullitt Central’s facility will not be completed until Oct. 1.

The school’s new kitchen and cafeteria will be ready well before the start of classes.

The next working session of the school board will be on Monday, March 10, at 6 p.m. The next regular school board meeting will be on Monday, March 24, at 6 p.m.

All meetings are open to the public and are held at the central office.