By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Two years ago, about one-third of Greenup County High School seniors were college- and career-ready, according to Principal Jason Smith.
That number is now up to 70 percent, but only about half the students go on to post-secondary education and Greenup County Superintendent Steve Hall wants to see that number reach at least 75 percent.
“A goal of 75 percent, we believe, is reasonable,” Hall said. “Obviously we want 100 percent, but right now 75 percent would be reasonable.”
Greenup County High is one of four Kentucky high schools that will take part in the Close the Deal program offered by the Kentucky Department of Education in cooperation with Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson. The lieutenant governor began the program at six high schools in Jefferson County when he was Louisville’s mayor.
The other three schools this year are Covington Holmes, Gallatin County and Logan County.
This is the second year the program has been offered statewide. Last year, Campbell County, Bullitt Central and Lawrence County started Close the Deal programs.
The schools are chosen on the basis of school officials’ efforts to prepare students for post-secondary education, use of individual learning plans and college-going rates as well as school involvement by local business and elected officials, according to a spokesman for Abramson.
The program provides training, suggestions and tools to high school guidance counselors and administrators to encourage students to pursue post-secondary education and works with the business community to provide support.
Abramson recently decided not to run for governor in 2015, saying he wanted to focus on helping the next generation of Kentuckians succeed by encouraging more students to pursue post-secondary education.
While mayor of Louisville, Abramson was known for working to attract employers. Tuesday, he told representatives of the three schools that improving the education of Kentucky’s workforce is critical to the state’s economic vitality.
He said he was often told by business leaders they “would expand my business in Kentucky or I would relocate my business to Kentucky if I could be assured there is a skilled, educated and productive workforce.”
The program seems to be working at the schools where it’s been implemented, so well at Bullitt Central that Hall’s goal of sending 75 percent of Greenup High graduates onto post-secondary education seems more than reasonable.
Before that school implemented its Close the Deal program, said Christy Coulter, principal at Bullitt Central, one in three of their students applied for college or some other form of post-secondary education.
“Now, 94 percent of our students apply.”
Their seniors earned more than 2,000 college credit hours and 60 percent have completed applications for student aid.
Yolinda Heimann, counselor at Fairdale High in Jefferson County, said “post-secondary education is now an expectation” for their students and 80 percent of graduates go on to traditional colleges.
The program involves local business people and groups like chambers of commerce as well as getting assistance from the Kentucky Department of Education and Abramson’s office.
Each school has a kickoff event — Greenup County’s will be Oct. 29. Abramson described the typical setup. Usually set up with three rows of tables, students visit first with business leaders who explain that a high school diploma is no longer enough to secure a good job.
Students move to the next table and visit with admission counselors from Kentucky public and private colleges and universities and others in the immediate area, even if they’re outside of Kentucky. At the third row of tables, students get guidance about applying for financial assistance.
“In fact,” Abramson said, “the lower your income, the better your chance of getting funding aid, so don’t let your parents tell you they can’t afford it. You can’t afford not to go to college.”
Hall and Smith, the Greenup County administrators, seemed enthused and excited about joining the program. Greenup County was designated a priority school three years ago. Priority schools are those which need improvement and receive state professional assistance. But things have been getting better, Hall said.
“We are making very strong strides coming out of priority status and we’re headed toward proficiency,” the superintendent said. He thinks the progress the school has made helped it land one of the Close the Deal slots this year.
“I believe the progress we’re making has been noticed by KDE,” he said. “We are a prime, fertile ground (for the program).”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.