By Jennifer Wohlleb
Dr. Harrie Buecker’s tenure as Franklin County Schools’ superintendent didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start five years ago when a few days onto into the job she was greeted by a newspaper story referring to one of her high schools as a dropout factory.
“Upon investigating, it looked like we had a 67 percent graduation rate and that didn’t sound so good to me,” she said. “So we had to get to work right away.”
Part of the path to improvement has led the district to create a road map to college and career readiness, which she presented during KSBA’s 76th annual conference in Louisville.
Photo: Franklin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Harrie Buecker, left, answers questions following her clinic session on college and career readiness.
“There are a lot of ideas about being college and career readinessready, but the one thing we know is that when students leave us they have to be ready for what’s next,” she said. “And what’s next for them could be a myriad of things; it could be they are going on to college; it could be that they’re going onto the military; they could be pursuing a trade, profession or certificate.”
Excellence for All
One of the largest pieces of Franklin County’s road map is it’s participation in Excellence for All, a program in its first year in the district, but one uniquely positioned to work with the other programs already in place.
Excellence for All’s curriculum is aligned with the ACT Quality Core Curriculum and the new Common Core Academic State Standards. The program allows students to progress onto college curriculum as soon as they pass end-of-course exams for the required high school curriculum.
“Students start as freshmen and take a rigorous course load in their freshmen and sophomore years,” Buecker said. “They take these end-of-course exams as they finish these courses and if they pass them at a certain benchmark, then we check off at the end of their sophomore year that they’ve addressed all of the expectations for a high school curriculum. In their junior and senior year they would be taking college classes or working toward career certification, or whatever it is that’s going to prepare them for college.
“So in essence, a student who wants to go to college, at the end of their sophomore year can get a certificate that they finished high school and begin taking credit-bearing classes their junior and senior years, up to 60 hours.”
Buecker said she and the school board also were sold on the final thing that sold her and the school board is that Quality Core’s also does the end-of-course exams for high school in their accountability cycle. Franklin County students will already be taking end-of-course exams in classes such as English II, algebra II, U.S. history and biology. Excellence for All students also will take them in English I, algebra I and world history, among others tests.
“Kids who took English I end-of-course exams through the Excellence for All program, we figured that when they took the English II end-of-course exam, they’ll already be somewhat assessment- ready,” she said. “They’ve already been through one assessment with that same vendor so we’re thinking they will be better prepared to take that end-of-course exam.”
Buecker said the program is an expedited path through the high school curriculum.
“We actually had to do a waiver with our board on our semester requirements and credit requirements in order to allow these students to take this path,” she said. “But our board heard from the principals and teachers who were with me in looking at the materials; they were convinced that it was the right way to go.”
The program currently has 35 students participating at one school, 40 at the other. Buecker said that number is expected to increase to 60 next year at both each schools. Bucker said the students recruited to the program aren’t necessarily those expected to take Advanced Placement classes.
“What we were looking for was that next level, for that average student who works really hard, makes good grades, is going to be at school every day and do what you ask them to do,” she said. “Or, they could be a little bit of a problem child or someone who is not motivated, because we felt like if we could get them in this program we could really turn that around for them and help them start down a different path toward their being ready to go.”
Other paths on the roadmap
Franklin County Schools is in its second year of participating in AdvanceKentuckyY, the goal of which is to increase both the number of students taking AP classes and the number scoring a 3 or higher on the exams.
It is succeeding in both counts. AP qualifying scores at Franklin County High School jumped from 63 in 2009 to 95 in 2011, while. At Western Hills High School’s scores, during that same time, their numbers increased from 38 to 72. Even more impressive is how the district’s increase compares to with the country and the state. In 2011 nationwide, the increase in AP qualifying scores nationally was 8.1 percent and 14.9 percent in Kentucky. At Franklin County the increase was 50.8 percent; at Western Hills it was 84.6 percent.
Buecker said school officials meet with high school students twice a year, once at eh the beginning of the school year to establish goals and then again mid-year to see how they are progressing toward those goals.
“But whether it’s military, whether it’s career/tech, more college, STEM, early college, AP, Excellence for All, our main focus is to try to find something that would meet the needs of all students, no matter where they were or what their aspirations might be for their future,” she said. “We still have some holes to plug, but we’re seeing a difference in the attitudes and motivation of our students.”
All of these efforts have contributed to a much- improved graduation rate.
“Our graduation rate as a district has risen to 89 percent, which isn’t where we want it to be, but it’s a whole lot better than 67 percent,” she said. “Hopefully, if we can continue to do this, meet the needs of our students, engage them and try to help prepare them for their future, we can continue to grow in the number of students who stay with us and graduate and are ready to roll.”