Frankfort Ind.'s panther mascot is on the prowl; district getting the word out about its expected growth, improvements; superintendent: "Our product is getting much stronger" (related editorial below)

State Journal, Frankfort, July 12, 2017

‘Return of the Panthers’: Frankfort Independent Schools expects influx of students next year

By Alfred Miller

“Return of the Panthers” reads a dark, fiery billboard on Versailles Road near the East-West Connector. Frankfort Independent Schools Superintendent Houston Barber, the man largely responsible for that image of a panther back on the prowl, wants everyone to know that the return it references is real.

FIS expects a net gain of 41 kindergarten to 12th grade students ahead of the 2017-18 school year. According to Barber, they represent students from local private schools Capital Day and Good Shepherd, from home-school households and even from “across town” — a reference to the rival Franklin County Public Schools district.

“Every student has now seen and — I feel very confident of this — understands this is what we’re about,” said Barber. “This is what it means to be a panther.”

To be a panther means embracing the district’s history as a small, community system.

“We believe in naming and claiming every child,” said Barber, who also pointed to new leadership at the district’s Second Street School, Chinese classes coming to Frankfort High School, the availability of counseling to all students and families and the rollout of an internship program for high school seniors.

“Our product is getting much stronger,” said Barber.

To be a panther also means benefiting from recent investments in technology and school infrastructure. In May, FIS received a $200,000 injection of city money via Kentucky Capital Development Corp., and later this month, FIS expects to complete renovations of Second Street School and Frankfort High School paid for with a $3 million Qualified Zone Academy Bond, a type of low-interest federal loan. That combined with the reduction of out-of-district tuition to $175 from over $1,000 per year is proving attractive to families, says Barber.

This is not the first time Barber has been enthusiastic about enrollment projections. Last year, the district constructed its budget under the assumption it would receive state funding for over 750 students, but it only had enough students to qualify for funding of 688. Each student represents approximately $4,000 for the district, with each kindergartener counting as half a student and pre-K students not counting at all under the state’s funding formula.

But even Board of Education member Jina Greathouse, who pushed for a more conservative budget estimate this year, thinks this time is likely different.

“I think there is a lot of excitement,” said Greathouse. “Houston brings a lot of energy and youth and a lot of creative ideas.”

Greathouse noted that at the time the board passed the district’s preliminary budget last month, there were already four out-of-district applicants.

“I’m very hopeful,” she said.

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