Hickman County Superintendent Kenny Wilson addresses MSU Board of Regents
Mary Potter, photos by Ivan Potter
(Murray KY, March 2, 2012) – Hickman County Schools Superintendent Kenny Wilson came to tell the Murray State University Board of Regents at their quarterly meeting how their school and his tiny rural school system intersect.
Wilson began his presentation with an explanation of how Falcon Academy, a dual credit high school/college class program began.
“In 2009, we took a look at our seniors and realized that our kids were very poorly prepared. While attendance in the rest of the school was 96%, senior attendance was 91%. There were discipline referrals for seniors.”
Seniors took one college prep English class, the rest of the time they were doing everything but taking classes.
“We realized that it was not the kids’ fault, it was ours for doing things the old fashioned way. We apologized to them and then got on to effective teaching.” Wilson said.
In October 2009, Robbie Rudolph, a Murray businessman with roots in Fulton County offered to assist both Fulton and Hickman County Schools. Rudolph and his wife created a foundation that gave books to primary students, offered career direction to middle schoolers, hired an ACT expert, Dr. Bobbie Weatherly, to help students do better on the test and became instrumental in Hickman County’s Falcon Academy.
Falcon Academy offered juniors and seniors the opportunity to take dual college and high school credit hours in courses offered by partner schools: Murray State, Mid-Continent University in Mayfield and West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. Students also could take classes at the regional technical center in Hickman.
The challenge that Hickman County School administrators set for themselves was to find a way to offer these classes to every student - at no cost.
“At $325 a credit hour, our parents could not afford to pay for classes.”
The school approached three local banks – Clinton Bank, First Community Bank and Jackson Purchase ACA. Those institutions stepped up to become sponsors of Falcon Academy.
In January 2010, Murray President Dr. Randy Dunn met with school administrators and offered his support. The stage was set for MSU credit classes to be offered at their high school and online.
Dr. Terry Branham of MSU’s College of Agriculture brought Hickman County a real bargain – four agriculture classes at $400. Wilson told the Board “that was a bargain when I was a student years ago at MSU.”
Hickman County High students Kelsey Grubb and Alex Richards were on hand to answer questions from the Regents. Each will graduate in May with twenty one hours of college credit. Like many other Falcon Academy graduates, both will enroll in Murray State in the fall.
The 54 seniors in the Class of 2011 earned 777 college credit hours, passing every class. The Class of 2012 with 48 students will graduate with 842, earning an average of 17.5 hours per student.
Because of assistance from Murray State and other institutions, money from the Rudolph Foundation, local donations, including the purchase of all textbooks by the Hickman County School Board, Wilson estimated that savings to parents at $225,000.
Wilson said that Falcon Academy has changed the culture of the school system. ACT scores are up two points. Hickman County went from 140th in college and career readiness to second in the state. Recent test scores show Hickman County 8th and 10th graders surpassed only by Murray City Schools in several areas.
“But we beat them in English” Wilson joked.
Wilson’s appearance was not just to praise Murray State and to tout Falcon Academy. He was there to urge Murray to send more professors and more classes his way. Next year, high school students will be able to take speech – a requirement for every freshman at MSU.
Wilson told the Board of Regents that “Our kids need increased Murray State involvement in their lives.”