What happens when a committed Board of Education embarks on a construction blitz unprecedented in the District's history? For the Franklin County Public Schools it meant redistricting the District for a more equitable distribution of students.
According to Superintendent Monte Chance, the recent opening of the $8.5-million Westridge Elementary is rivaled only by the new Peaks Mill Elementary opened two years ago. Still under construction is Bridgeport Elementary, another $8.5-million facility opening in late 2005.
Likewise, the list of recent renovations and additions is long and impressive with Elkhorn Elementary at $8 million; Hearn Elementary, $3 million; Western Hills High School, $3.5 million; and Bondurant Middle, $3.1 million. Franklin County High School's athletic facilities underwent a $1.4-million makeover, and both high schools now have reconstructed tracks and state-of-the-art tennis courts. Beginning in 2005, another $3.5 million will be spent on renovations at two more schools and the District Board Office.
"Of course top-notch facilities aid faculty and staff in accomplishing the District's mission to prepare students to realize their full potential, but curriculum is the core of this process," said Chance. He added that four years ago when the Board of Education recognized that with nearly 50 percent of students going directly from high school into the workforce, a career-oriented curriculum was needed to equip students with the skills necessary to meet employers' needs.
With this recognition came the creation of the Career and Technical Center (CTC), formed from what was once the vocational school. The Board also changed graduation requirements to include a career cluster or goal. Chance explained, "It's similar to declaring a major in college, but students are not penalized for changing direction. Now, students not planning on going to college can choose a career path while still in high school and take courses to move them toward their goal."
"Love On A Leash is a national therapy pet organization. One of the programs our local chapter is involved in is the Therapy Pet Reading Program. Teams of handlers and pets go into the schools and 'read' with children: one-on-one, in a small group, or an entire class." -- Linda McKinley, local coordinator
Because the medical field and computer technology have the highest interest among students, the CTC offers a rich curriculum in health science and computer networking and drafting. Often, students planning on studying medicine in college take courses at the CTC. Additionally, the CTC offers pre-engineering, carpentry and nationally certified courses in automotive technology, auto body collision repair and welding. Boasting an enrollment of 700 students as compared to the old vocational school's 150, today the CTC graduates many with dual credits for college or tech school and with certifications highly valued in the job market.
According to Assistant Superintendent Chrissy Jones, the District offers several ways to earn college credits in high school, and CTC is one of them. "Students can also take courses at Kentucky State University that apply toward their freshman year," said Jones. "And we offer quite a few advanced placement courses as well as independent study."
In reviewing the District's most recent student statistics, Jones stated that 70 percent pursue post secondary education, while one year out of high school 95-100 percent are either in the workforce, school or the military. In 2004, the District graduated two National Merit Finalists, and ACT scores were at or above the state average. Scholarships totaling $6 million were awarded to 375 graduating seniors. Jones said, "The CATS assessment scores just came out, and we're proud to report that all schools in the District are progressing toward meeting state-established goals with two of our schools exceeding their goals."
When considering the number of students achieving successful lives after graduation, the high cost of the District's construction and change seem small. Commending the level of commitment and support given by the Board of Education to providing students a quality education, Jones said, "They are a dedicated group of people who have backed up their promise with the resources to make it happen."
"Time will tell" is the adage people use when waiting for something to prove itself. At Frankfort Independent Schools, plans were made, goals set and strategies implemented. Today, time and other important indicators are telling us the District is succeeding.
"In fact," said Frankfort Superintendent Dr. Judith Lucarelli, "there is cause for celebration." The event eliciting Lucarelli's joy was the recent release of CATS scores, which show the District is on track to reach or exceed its academic goals.
Lucarelli added, "Behind these district results are many positive indicators at the school level. For instance, at Second Street School, English and mathematics have been areas of particular focus, and student performance shows the effectiveness of this work. Writing and math scores are at a five-year high at the Elementary School, while reading and math scores have increased five years in a row at the Middle School."
According to Lucarelli, performance is also strong at Frankfort High School, where student scores increased on five of the seven subtests. On six of the seven subtests students scored above state average. Last year, 75% of the graduating class entered college and received $900,000 in scholarships. The state tracks graduates' transition to adult life, and statistics show that one year after graduation 90% had made a successful transition by entering the workforce, school or the military.
Frankfort Independent Schools has a long tradition of personalized attention. This is possible in part because the District is small, serving from 900 to 1,000 students a year with a student-teacher ratio of 15:1 in 2004. Critical to each student's success in the 21st Century is knowing how to use technology. Within the District, technology is a vital part of standards, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies.
Lucarelli stated that the District offers students a number of opportunities for college credits. Her daughter, who is a Frankfort High School senior, is taking Latin at Georgetown College. Courses are also available at Kentucky State University and Midway College. A new opportunity proving successful with students is Psychology 101, which is being taught at Frankfort High School by a Midway College professor. Talks are underway with Midway to add more courses.
Also available are Advanced Placement courses, which offer students the option of taking a final exam that, depending on their score, can award them either advanced standing in college or actual college credit. Lucarelli explained, "All of these opportunities give students a glimpse into what college courses are really like and can help bridge the transition to college when students must make so many adjustments. For those seniors on the fence about college, these opportunities can help them choose college once they see they can do the work."
Although the District does not have a vocational school, if a student wanted to develop vocational skills the District would meet that student's need through a mentoring program.
Additionally, Frankfort High School offers "Careers," a program available to freshmen and sophomores. At a recent Careers class, Lucarelli talked with students about the teaching profession. On the back row sat a young man whose obvious disinterest attracted Lucarelli's attention. She asked him, "Are you aware you could become a very effective teacher?" Astonished at the thought, the student asked her why. "Because you would relate so well to students who find school boring, you would make the extra effort to interest them in the work at hand."
Lucarelli added that after class, the young man expressed further interest in this new career possibility. "As educators, we can't know what fruit will be produced from the seeds we plant, but the sooner we get students interested in a career field, the more likely they are to achieve it."