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Parental involvement, mentoring top concerns of public meeting

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By Bryan Marshall

Heidi Tien chose to send her three children to Williamstown Elementary in part because she loved the small class sizes.

However, with the district growing, Tien sees what drew her to Williamstown disappearing before her eyes.

“The teacher-to-student ratio was outstanding, the test scores were very good and they focused on continuing education and college at an earlier age,” she said. “In the five years we’ve been at the school, we’ve seen where the class numbers have gone up to where our class sizes are larger than those at Grant County. I think that’s had a serious impact on the ability of teachers to maximize their effectiveness to the different levels that each student is at.”

Tien was one of several people who brought up growing class sizes Oct. 27 during “Improving Student Achievement: A Community Discussion” at Williamstown High School.

The two-hour meeting, part of a Kentucky School Board Association program for school districts called Advancing Student Achievement Program, had about 50 attendees, including a handful of students, community members, school staff and faculty.

Having spent every day in the classroom, first-grade teacher Donna Jones said she agreed with Tien.

“The lower you can get my class size, the more I can do,” she said. “That’s obvious, especially in elementary where the kids’ needs are so great. We are implementing new programs though like RTI (Response to Intervention) where those children who are struggling are seeing someone everyday for 20 minutes for individualized instruction. I’ve never been more excited about a program.”

To spur dialogue, two questions were prompted to participants at the meeting; what should our school be doing to maximize student achievement and what issues does our district need to address in planning for improved student learning?

The lack of parental involvement was brought up by several people as an issue.

“I’d like to see a whole lot more parents volunteering,” said Williamstown Elementary Principal David Poer. “With some of the cuts we’ve had to take, we used to have a paid volunteer coordinator. We now have a volunteer volunteer coordinator. It would be really nice to have a person who focuses on making sure that’s coordinated to ensure we have enough people coming into our school to help our students.”

Williamstown Jr./Sr High Principal Misty Buchannan agreed.

“We had parent open house/parent conferences last week and my goal, which I thought was low, was 50 percent of the parents attending,” she said. “We had 56 percent. We were very happy with that. In the back of my mind, I wanted 80 percent.”

Following in the footsteps of what makes the state champion Williamstown Band of Spirit successful would be a good idea, said Williamstown Christian Church Pastor Gary Swick.

“I’ve been asking myself what makes the band excellent because I think it would be the same thing that would help with student achievement,” he said. “The one thing that continues to come to mind is parental involvement. Those parents are out there moving stuff on the field and very involved with the kids. I think that’s the key.”

Two seniors expressed their concern that high school students need better tools to prepare them for college and make sure they are going in the right path.

Kyle Knarr said that he can not attend one of the colleges that he was looking at because he did not know he needed to take a chemistry class.

He suggested the school help students begin discussing their future in their freshman and sophomore years.

“Maybe we can have students look at colleges earlier and maybe have a college visit your junior year,” Knarr said. “That way you don’t have to wait until your senior year to decide something is not 100 percent what you want to do.”

Brad Cook said it is also important that an expanded student mentoring program focuses on all students not just those with post-secondary education aspirations.

“Those kids who want to go to the military and other things are left out to dry,” he said. “I think we need to focus on what is the best way to prepare all students for after high school.”

While several problems were discussed, potential solutions were only briefly mentioned.

The school board and administrators will use the feedback to help formulate a set of prioritized goals that will be shared with planners at each school.

“It’s going to take all of us, not fragmented pieces,”Buchannan said. “But, talk is cheap. We need to put this into action.”