The Richmond Register

September 14, 2013

Number of students taking AP courses nearly triples in three years

GEAR UP Appalachia grant continues to serve cohort

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — This year, 1,165 students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses at the county school district’s two high schools, nearly triple the number enrolled in 2010.

Chief academic officer David Gilliam reported those figures to the school board Thursday at its monthly meeting.

AP courses prepare students to take AP exams, which can give students a jump start on earning college credits, he said.

Prior to 2010, the number of students taking AP courses hovered around 400. This was followed by a slow increase during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. After a “big push” to increase participation, 726 students signed up for AP courses in 2012-13, Gilliam said.

But, since partnering with AdvanceKentucky, a statewide initiative to increase rigorous college-level work in high schools, the district now has more students than ever enrolled in AP courses, he said.

Data from the second year of the state’s new accountability and assessment system, Unbridled Learning, will be presented at the Oct. 10 board meeting, Gilliam said.

The assessment is based on academic achievement determined by student performance on K-PREP tests (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) and several other components including college- and career-readiness and averaged-freshman graduation rates.

Gilliam also gave an update on the mathematics task force, an initiative Superintendent Elmer Thomas proposed during his first day on the job to improve math achievement districtwide.

The task force is a “teacher-led initiative,” it is important to remember, Gilliam said in August when the team was beginning to form.

Eighteen teachers, representing every grade level and every school in the district, were selected to be part of the group.

The task force began talking about developing a “growth mindset” around math and a systemwide approach to teaching math, he said.

During his report later in the meeting, Thomas explained what is meant by a “growth mindset.”

“Too often … a parent or a teacher might say something like, ‘I was never good at mathematics,’” Thomas said. “That’s a very limiting comment. It almost says, ‘So it’s okay for my student not to be good at mathematics.’”

GEAR UP Appalachia grant

A seven-year grant to increase academic performance and college readiness is entering its third year of serving a cohort of Madison County students.

GEAR UP Appalachia, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness in Undergraduate Programs, is a national federally funded program administered through Berea College that follows a cohort of middle school students through high school graduation.

This year, 1,668 eight- and ninth-grade students are reaping the benefits of the grant, $1.3 million of which has been spent so far in Madison County since the program’s inception in 2011.

The grant pays for the district to employ staff in each of the five middle schools and now in both high schools, according to GEAR UP Madison County partner Sarah Belanger, who gave a presentation at Thursday’s meeting. The staff includes five academic specialists, three college- and career-readiness teachers, one AmeriCorps college coach and several tutors for both inschool and afterschool programs.

Last year, the cohort received an average of at least 16.4 hours of tutoring/homework help; 7.5 hours of mentoring; 4.2 hours of financial aide counseling; and 4.4 hours of academic planning and career counseling.

Students went on several educational trips and college campus visits. Family events and summer enrichment programs also were conducted in each school.

With a focus on the at-risk population, board member Becky Coyle said she was concerned the program wasn’t reaching those students “in the middle” who aren’t making the top grades, but who aren’t failing either.

Academic specialists have already talked this year about putting more focus on the students “in the middle” as Coyle mentioned, Belanger said.

Full-day kindergarten update

During his superintendent report, Thomas said he was encouraged by board members’ and the community’s responses to his proposal to institute full-day kindergarten in the fall of 2014.

On Monday, the board voted to raise property tax rates enough to generate a 4-percent revenue increase, nearly $1 million.

Days before the meeting, Thomas proposed that the $1 million go toward full-day kindergarten. Madison County is one of eight districts that offer only half-day kindergarten classes.

Although the tax-hike vote was not a vote to implement full-day kindergarten, it did appropriate more than $600,000 for instruction, money that can be used to hire the teachers needed to extend classes, he said Monday night.

“While this is an item I plan to bring to the board to make a decision on in the near future, that decision has not been made,” he said.

However, conversations already have begun about transportation, facilities and other factors to present the board with two or three options, he said. And “to make this a reality for the 2014-15 school year.”

Middle College students praise the program

Since its launch in May 2011, Middle College at Eastern Kentucky University has been the subject of debate for board members and the residents they represent.

Middle College is a collaboration between Madison County Schools and EKU that allows selected high school juniors and seniors to receive both high school and college credits, all in a university campus setting.

The program has been under fire for being too costly for such a small group of students. The current enrollment is 31.

During Monday’s tax hearing, board member John Lackey called Middle College an expensive “resume-builder” for former Superintendent Tommy Floyd who accepted a position at the Kentucky Department of Education in July.

Three Middle College students showed up to Thursday’s meeting to share what their experience has meant to them.

Junior Jenny York said her outlook on school has “already changed dramatically.”

She said the traditional model of high school did not meet her needs, “because one size doesn’t fit all.”

York said she appreciated the opportunities to talk one-on-one with teachers every day and experience activities and programs that have already begun to prepare her for college.

“I will be much more prepared for the independence that college brings because I have been given this uncommon opportunity,” she said. “Middle College is the model that fits me perfectly.”

Because of Middle Colleges’ success, she said, other counties, such as Pike, Fayette, Floyd, McCracken, Kenton, Spencer and Washington counties, “have begun programs to mirror ours.”

She also listed several states that have similar programs.

“I am proud that Madison County began a new educational model that is becoming more popular nationwide,” she said.

Junior Sophia Chan noted that every Middle College student is required to complete 20 hours of community service per semester.

“This keeps us humble and focused on helping improve our community,” she said.

Andrena Mounce said in the short time she has been enrolled in Middle College, “I have learned more than I ever have.”

“I get a lot more done here because of my college schedule,” she added.

She said she had always struggled in science, maintaining only a C average in the past but is now making A’s, she said.

Last year, when the statewide ACT scores were released in August, Middle College students came out on top. They achieved ACT scores up to 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. They also scored higher than Model Laboratory School students, who had a composite score of 21.4.

How the school board works

Stacy Turner, who spoke at Monday’s tax hearing in opposition to the tax hike, addressed the board about the construction report, an item on Thursday’s agenda.

Turner asked the superintendent if he had time to look at the “plans” on the construction report, which included the revision of BG-4s, the initial estimates for construction projects. The projects had been completed in 2007, but because the final cost was over the initial estimate, the Kentucky Department of Education required revisions to the paperwork.

Thomas explained that for Thursday’s construction report, which was later given by architect Tony Thomas with Clotfelter-Samokar Architects, “there is no new construction going on … this is paperwork that needs to be completed for work that has already been done.”

Turner was satisfied with the superintendent’s answer and then asked that someone “explain the process of the board” and how items come up for a vote. He specifically wanted to know how the Madison County Fiscal Court approves the property rates for taxing districts, such as the rate set by the board at Monday’s hearing. 

Thomas explained that school board members are elected by the people registered to vote in the county’s five districts. As elected representatives, state law empowers school boards to levy property taxes. Monthly meetings are scheduled and a week ahead of time, all board members receive information that will be presented at the board meeting.

After Monday’s vote to set the tax rate, the Madison Fiscal Court accepted the rate at its Tuesday meeting.

State law, does not allow fiscal courts to change tax rates adopted by school boards, Thomas said.

Board member Beth Brock said once she receives her meeting agenda, she maintains phone and email correspondence with central office and principals to “ask questions and research before I come to the meeting.”

School boards also have a recommended yearly meeting schedule to talk about certain cyclical issues such as contract renewals, budgets, tax rates and test scores, said board chair Mona Isaacs.

Board members also must earn Continuing Education Credits for classes on school budgeting, safety, laws and policies, Brock added.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.