Superintendent Kenny Wilson hosted over sixty farmers and ag business leaders at a Thursday luncheon for three reasons. First, he wanted to “brag on our kids”. Second he wanted to thank the agricultural community for its support of the one high school, one elementary school system and third, support is needed to keep the Falcon Academy program growing.
In praising students, Wilson reviewed what he found when school administrators began looking at student scores and opportunities. The school system was hovering around 140th in the state. With 65% of the student body on free or reduced lunch, chances for higher education looked remote. Students were taking “classes” like office assistant and study hall just to mark time to graduation. college classes costing $325 an hour put a three hour course out of reach for the great majority of students at $975 for the class. Books and travel would pile on more cost.
Wilson and his team vowed that every Hickman County High School student would get the opportunity to go beyond high school. They first enlisted the area vocational and tech school’s help. Then they began asking area colleges to step up and offer classes at the school. The result is a program shared by four institutions – Western Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah (WKCTC), Murray State University in Murray, Mid-Continent University in Mayfield and the area technical program in Hickman (Fulton County) Kentucky.
The colleges and universities worked with the school and reduced their charge per hour. Funds raised from local lending institutions, donations and from the Four Rivers Foundation of Robbie and Lisa Rudolph, and the Hickman County School Board’s purchase of textbooks, allowed students graduating in 2011 to go to college with 777 college credit hours at no cost to the student and family. The leg up became apparent when graduates registered for their spring college semester. They are sophomores in the middle of what for their classmates is their freshman year.
Students’ grade point average in college classes in the fall semester of 2011 was 3.25. Forty eight seniors graduating in 2012 will leave high school having taken 842 credit hours, an average of 17.5 hours per student. Given the cost of college hours, Falcon Academy has saved students and their families over $235,000.
Robbie Rudolph, who left Fulton County in 1973, told the crowd that he got tired of hearing people talk about how badly things were going in Fulton, Hickman and Carlisle Counties. He contacted Dianne Owen, then superintendent of Fulton City Schools, and from that contact the Four Rivers Foundations was born. Rudolph and wife Lisa sponsor a free book program “Rudolph’s Readers” for young students, a career day for 5th and 6th graders, a tour of the tech program in Hickman for 7-8th graders and college visits to regional institutions. The Foundation has paid for 188 students to attend college.
Owen retired from her Fulton superintendent’s position and this year became instructional supervisor for Hickman County Schools. She encouraged farmers in the audience to support the school as it applies for a Monsanto Fund program that awards grants up to $25,000 for rural school districts. Farmers who meet the criteria can log on to show support for the school’s efforts.
The system has already benefited from a Monsanto award. Local farmer Jerry Peery won in 2011 and donated his prize money to the school system. He was present at the luncheon and urged his fellow farmers to become involved.
Falcon Academy has done more than just get second semester freshmen sophomore parking spots. Wilson credits the program for a drop in discipline referrals. In 2008-2009, there were 838 referrals. 2009-2010 saw 818 referrals. In 2010-2010, that went down to 604 referrals. At the end of the first semester of 2011-2012, there have been only 252 discipline referrals. A few short years ago, Hickman County School System ranked 140th in the state for career and college readiness. In September 2011, West Kentucky Journal reported that the system came in 3rd in the state in the number of students prepared for college or career. With a score of 70%, the district followed only Jefferson (81%) and Oldham County (71%). All 176 districts were evaluated.
Hickman County High School came in 5th out of 400 high schools. The comparison takes into account ACT scores, placement tests and benchmark scores.
That’s a success story worth celebrating with west Kentucky barbecue brisket and all the trimmings.