By JEROD CLAPP
For a first go-around, Greater Clark County Schools officials are pretty happy with how their first fall intersession played out.
The first half a two week fall break, which was implemented when the district adopted a balanced calendar system, was used for remediation and enrichment for more than 900 students.
Andrew Melin, superintendent, said even though those who attended technically had their fall break cut in half, students and teachers both were overall happy to attend.
“It was a positive feel during that entire week amongst our students and our staff,” Melin said. “It wasn’t a burden, it wasn’t something that people did not look forward to. The parents appreciated it and the kids had fun along the line.”
He said with 117 teachers who came in — and were paid extra outside of their regular negotiated contract — the student-teacher ratio was at 8:1.
In a report he presented to the district’s board of trustees at its Nov. 19 meeting, he said some modest academic gains are expected for students who attended. But as the hope to bring in 2,000 students and 130 teachers still holds, Melin said administrators need to resolve some difficulties before spring intersession comes.
Students from all grade levels were transported to each of the district’s high schools for the courses, which lasted about four hours. But Melin said the real hurdle is to get more students in the classroom who need to take advantage of intersession.
Students in New Washington and Charlestown were picked up either at bus stops or their homes, but because of the expanse covered by Jeffersonville-area schools, students were picked up at the closest elementary school to their homes.
Melin said some students missed intersession entirely because of difficulties parents had in getting students to pick-up areas.
“That’s the big challenge for us,” Melin said. “We thought that in order to do the best we could with transportation, by picking students up at the nearest elementary, we thought that would make sense. Obviously, that worked for almost 600 kids that took advantage of that. But we do have issues where you have some families that maybe live a mile away or more from an elementary school and it’s hard for them to get there.”
Charlestown had 249 students attend and New Washington had 90. Jeffersonville had more than both schools combined, at 589.
But picking up more students is a challenge partly because of a transportation budget for the district that’s already more than $223,000 in the red.
Melin said since the district will already have to dip into the rainy day fund to supplement the budget, busing students the same way in Jeffersonville as they were in New Washington and Charlestown isn’t conceivable. But they’re working on solutions to get more students in the classes.
He said some of the planning and communication with parents for intersession occurred down to the last week before it began. He said schools need to get the message to parents about how to get their children to the classroom sooner.
“Our schools have to identify the students are in need of intersession and communicate with their parents sooner and more directly, you can’t rely on letters,” Melin said. “You have to rely on direct phone conversations with parents. I think we have to identify who these students are a little bit earlier.”
He said while using Chromebooks — which were part of the sweeping 1:1 initiative [computers for every student] adopted by the district this year — for distance learning is a possibility, there are still concerns about how to make that work for intersession.
Through Google Hangouts, which allows video conferencing over the Internet, teachers could interact with students at home from their classrooms.
“That is a possibility,” Melin said. “There are pros and cons to trying to provide online education. You’d have to hope the families have Internet access at home. We think one of the big issues that’s beneficial is providing more direct instruction that’s more individualized to the student.”
He said not every family might have Internet access at home, but having students in classrooms seems to help them more than if they were conferencing with teachers online.
Melin said parents and students need to realize there are serious consequences for students who don’t attend.
He said if students don’t take the chance to improve their English and math skills during at least one of the intersessions, the district could hold them back or keep high school seniors from graduating.
Though seniors can qualify for a graduation waiver if they don’t pass end-of-course assessments in English 10 or algebra 1, they also have to take advantage of the help the district offers to qualify for them. Melin said with that, they could keep students from getting their diplomas if they don’t take the chance to help themselves at intersession.
“I think that this whole waiver process is something that’s driven by the school system and our schools,” Melin said. “We can’t grant a waiver to a student that has not earned the ability to earn that diploma. To me, as I talk to our principals, I expect them right now to make decisions that would either be a retention or even keep a student from graduating if they haven’t shown the skills that they need to be given that diploma.”
With the additional 20 hours of instruction at each intersession, Melin said he didn’t think there should be any reason a student should get held back or be kept from graduation if they attend.
Enrichment courses in basketball camps, engineering, photojournalism and theater were offered, but only 95 students attended them. Melin said getting the word out about those classes earlier will help in filling them up, but the focus still needs to remain on helping students who need to raise their scores.