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College and Career Readiness - Hickman County

Hickman County High: Community on the bandwagon

Embedded Image for: Hickman County High: Community on the bandwagon (201452810305625_image.jpg)
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff Writer
Hickman County may be small in population, just under 4,800, but Hickman County Schools leaders say community involvement has been a big factor in the district achieving a college and career readiness rate of 98.7 percent.
The district’s efforts to focus on college and career readiness have “taken down any barriers between the schools and the community,” said Janet Johnson, the district’s supervisor of instruction. “That has been a tremendous benefit to our students.”
“We always try to use our best assets – retired teachers, people in the county with specialized knowledge. We do try to use the assets that we know we have,” Superintendent Casey Henderson said.
PHOTO: A dual-credit math course at Hickman County School’s Falcon Academy. Photo provided by Hickman County Schools 
Henderson said the district’s ranking in college and career readiness a few years ago was a wake-up call.
“We found out three years ago that we were 140th in the state in college and career readiness and set a goal to do better than that,” he said.
Johnson said teachers refocused on the school’s motto of “Every student, every period, every day.”
“Our teachers really started looking at every student – and we’re small enough that we can do that – to build those relationships and really watch our kids and encourage them in the areas that they need to work on,” she said.
As part of this, the school began offering tutoring, and ACT and other test prep sessions after school, she said. The cultural shift also included high expectations and celebration of successes large and small.
But what really solidified the effort, Johnson said, was launching the Falcon Academy in 2010-11, in which students take dual-credit college courses from area postsecondary institutions.
“That changed our kids’ culture tremendously,” she said, and it attracted a lot of outside attention. “Our community got very excited about that and excited about helping the high school. It became a great support and interaction between the community and the schools.”
The Academy is supported by the district, community donations and a multicounty scholarship program in western Kentucky. Hickman County students are able to take the dual-credit courses for free, including textbooks.
Henderson also pointed to “diligent work” by teachers and guidance counselors with the area technology center in Fulton, where Hickman County High students can take dual-credit classes.
Students have benefited from some personal postsecondary connections. Johnson said Murray State University’s president and representatives from West Kentucky Community and Technical College have visited to talk with students.
“They saw the people, they were making connections with these colleges,” she said. “Whether they went to a two-year or four-year program after high school, I think their eyes were opened that this was something they could do. And with those expectations going on … they’re getting those college- and career-ready components taken care of.”
College and career readiness: Supporting with vision, leadership and funding
In his 20-plus years on the Hickman County school board, Allen Kyle has experienced the most positive excitement in the last few, due to the district’s college and career readiness efforts. 
“When you’re in the education business, and you can see the results of what you’re trying to do, it is very rewarding,” he said.
Kyle, the board chairman, is talking mainly about the results generated by the linchpin of those efforts, the district’s dual-credit program called Falcon Academy. The board, community and other donors fund the Academy so that students pay nothing for taking college classes. College and career readiness in the district “has just blossomed since then,” along with community and parent support, Kyle said.
“And the interest of the students has just amazed us on the board and we can’t help but to try to support it in any way we can,” which, he said, combined with supporting the administrative staff, is the board’s role in moving a district toward college and career readiness.
Karen Byrd, chairwoman of the Boone County school board, agrees. “We have to set the vision, we have to set the direction and then empower our administrators to figure out how, in each school’s population, to carry that vision out” she said.
The district (whose efforts are detailed on the next page) has amended the slogan to college, career and life readiness to reflect the “soft skills” students need in addition to academics, and it has set the bar higher than the state’s by tying college and career readiness to an ACT score of 24-27.
With that benchmark, Byrd said, “Students are going to have the basic skills they need regardless of the path they choose, and that’s what we’re working toward – it’s college, career and life readiness … and whatever path they chose as their life’s path, we want to facilitate it.”
But with the bar set that high, “You’re going to have to equip your administrators and your teachers to be able to work with the students in their class to get them there,” she added.
Leadership is the key to ensuring that students graduate ready for college and careers, said Somerset Independent school board Chairman Scott Gulock.
“Our most important role is to hire the right leadership in the beginning and that just tailors from the top down. You’ve got to have good board members, too, to see this stuff through.
Our board team works very well together,” he said.
Gulock said the Somerset board supports college and career readiness by funding programs administrators feel will help and through embedding it in its strategic planning.
“We set goals, and that’s part of our district improvement plan,” he said. “The superintendent’s goals, his personal goals, are focused on college and career readiness and I think he sees to it that it’s communicated all the way down, to his principals, teachers and staff.”
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