By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Students from the county’s Middle College program achieved ACT scores almost three points higher than their peers at Madison Southern and Madison Central high schools.
The Middle College composite ACT score was 22.3, Central’s was 19.5 and Southern’s was 18.3.
Speculations about the reason for this difference became the subject of conversation during an instructional report by Chief Academic Officer Randy Peffer at Thursday’s school board meeting.
The Middle College at Eastern Kentucky University is entering its second year and was intended to help high school juniors and seniors who are academically capable but at risk of dropping out of school.
The program currently enrolls 39 students and costs the district $115,000 a year, according to Peffer.
About $100,000 of the yearly cost is funded by the Kentucky Department of Education. EKU does not charge for the use of its facilities, he said.
Middle College was expected to double in enrollment the second year to about 60 students, said board member John Lackey.
But, around half of last year’s Middle College juniors returned to their sitting high school this year to participate in athletics and senior-year activities, Peffer said.
Considering the current enrollment of 39, Lackey said class size and teacher-to-student ratio at Middle College could have had a major affect on the high scores.
“These students were not particularly brilliant kids a year ago — they were doing very ordinary work, and now they have suddenly blossomed,” Lackey said.
However, Peffer pointed out there are only two teachers at Middle College and that class size is not much different from the high schools. One teacher is required per every 23 students, he said.
Lackey offered another theory.
“These kids don’t have stretch limousines to go to the prom with, they’re not distracted with athletics, there’s not drama there to fit in socially, and that’s the reason they’re doing so well,” he said. “I think our experiment with Middle College is showing a lot about how we raise scores across the board.”
Peffer agreed that one difference is the focus on academics in a college setting, along with the demand for high-quality work from their teachers.
“I think those kids do realize it’s a privilege to be there, and they had to go through an entire process to be a candidate at Middle College,” he said.
Board member Chris Hager said he visited Middle College and was “thoroughly impressed” with the students and hired one to work in his business.
“I think we’ll see a lot more interest in Middle College next year with the increase in ACT scores over Central and Southern — they’re bright, sharp and they got it together,” Hager said.
Board member Mona Isaacs said one of the differences she has noticed is the “collegial relationships” Middle College students have developed with one another.
“They are truly a family-type organization,” she said. “They are bonded to each other and supported in ways many of them didn’t experience in high school.”
Peffer said, in his opinion, public education would be more beneficial if the school-size model was turned upside down — with larger and fewer elementary schools, smaller middle schools and a greater number of small high schools.
“If you think about it, for an elementary student, their classroom is like their school, so what would it matter if you had 1,800 students in an elementary school?” he said.
Smaller high schools “where everybody knows everybody” give teachers an opportunity to become more personable with their students, he said.
“But, I know that is not the way the education system is set up — I have no idea if that would make a difference,” Peffer said.
“I think you’re right,” said Lackey, who went on to say Middle College is “an experiment for us and the whole state. We need to figure out why it works, not just applaud the results that we’re getting — and see if we can duplicate it in Southern and Central.”
All construction projects for the district — Foley Middle’s roof, Madison Central’s roof and athletic complex and Farristown Middle’s athletic complex — are complete, reported project architect Tony Thomas of Clotfelter-Samokar Architects.
However, after running into unforeseen problems with Central’s roof in June, which required a change order for up to additional $175,000, another unforeseen problem was discovered that required a second change order of around $23,000.
As workers began to secure the existing roof deck to bring it up to structural standards (unforeseen problem No. 1), they discovered that the structural sub-support near the edge of the roof, facing the north parking lot, was rotted (unforeseen problem No. 2).
The all-wood fascia was rotten around 40 feet down. It had to be removed and then replaced with new structure and fascia.
“Really, we had no choice. We couldn’t even attach the roof to it,” Thomas said.
The first roof change order was calculated at around $172,000, $3,000 less than projected. But with the second change order, the total additional cost of the roof project was around $198,000.
Although every construction project is required to set aside funds for contingencies, Thomas said, “the contingencies on this particular project were no where near covering what we ran into.”
The additional funds for the roof project were pulled from the Glenn Marshall Elementary School account, he said, which had funds leftover from the construction of the school built six years ago.
“Where you were fiscally responsible before, you had ‘rainy-day’ funds available that don’t require selling bonds or borrowing money — it’s money sitting there that can only be used for construction,” Thomas said.
Lackey asked if there were “any other pots (of money) like Glenn Marshall that we can go after later on.”
“They are dwindling, because we’ve used them for some of these projects,” said Debbie Frazier, the district’s chief financial officer.
A report on the amount that is left in the “other pots” was not available Friday afternoon.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.