By JEROD CLAPP
Continued growth may present its challenges for a school district, but West Clark Community Schools is figuring out what to do with the extra students and how to accommodate them.
Monty Schneider, superintendent for the district, said this year could bring in some change and mild expansion for the district, but while it’s not embracing some of the technology initiatives of its neighbors, its still offering some advantages its immediate competitors don’t.
How’s the 2013-2014 school year going so far?
We feel it’s a good start. I hope to say that most years when we get started, it seems like it’s always hectic because our growth has a lot to do with it and getting our final schedules out and things like that. We’re careful about adding new employees because we’re essentially in the same financial situation we were in during 2007.
We get additional money for more students, but the amount of money we’re getting is similar to what we had in 2007. We haven’t had any raises in a number of years and that’s how we’re still able to manage. We started the year with two new principals and also with a new employee at the West Clark Education Center, which is our alternative program. We’ve made some administrative changes.
West Clark continues to grow pretty steadily. What’s that doing to your district?
We have about 25 new teachers. Some of those for replacement for retiring teachers and things like that. We added two additional teachers on the Silver Creek Campus just to take care of the increased number of students. Right now, we look like we’re in the 60 to 75 range on additional students at West Clark.
In this day and age, most people lose students and we’ve continually grown. That may be a little bit less than we’ve had in the past years. I think some of the other schools are making greater effort to retain students and to get students. We have not done that simply because of room.
I’m sure we could attract more students, but space is getting to be a premium, especially on the Silver Creek campus.
What do you have to do to adjust for the growth?
The board has directed me to seek a feasibility study. Sometimes that leads to building, sometimes that leads to some changes, reallocation of spaces and those kinds of things. That will be one thing we’ll be looking at in this next year, to study our enrollment trends.
I just finished my sixth year here and starting my seventh and we’ve grown 800 students in that time. Greater Clark’s the largest district in the county and they rank somewhere at 10 to 15 in the state. But West Clark’s no longer a small district, we’re about 60th in the state, not counting charters. It’s a good problem to have, you’re better off gaining students than losing students. I know it’s a situation [where] some of our patrons probably within the district feel like it’s causing some of the crowding. It is, but it’s allowed us to continue with things the way they are, we haven’t had to cut back. Essentially, you can do two things: You can add students and retain your staff and add new staff as you need them, or you not take any transfers, remain the same or lose a few students and have to reduce staff. Anytime you can have an infusion of new staff members and students, it’s probably a benefit to the school corporation.
What challenges does the district face this year?
We have a new state schools superintendent and a new governor who has appointed a new state board of education, so there’ll be some changes that they’ll have. But our principals every year look at their buildings and what’s been done then talk it over with our administration. John Reed works with them to come up with school improvement plans to not only keep them where they are but also to improve them with all of our students.
With the tornado in 2012 and last year’s ISTEP+ debacle, is this the year you can set an academic benchmark for the Henryville schools?
I hope that it will, but it’ll be hard to compare because we do not have the scores for last year yet. They should be coming at any time, then we’ll see where we were. But you’re trying to compare them, really from quite a ways off, so it’ll be difficult.
We’ve got a good mix of experienced and new teachers at Henryville. The principals are both experienced there and I’m sure they’ll get on it. I guess you set a benchmark that you at least want to get the state average, but we’re not happy with the state average, we want to do better. The public’s going to look at them in comparison to where they are with neighboring schools, so that should be interesting to see.
What does West Clark offer that other districts don’t?
Even though we’re now approximately 60th in the state in terms of our enrollment, we’re still a corp. of small communities. I feel like the community feels like they have ownership of the school and they do. Even here at Silver Creek where we’re between 800 and 900 in enrollment at Silver Creek High School, the community feels ownership.
We’re still a corporation of small communities. There’s definitely a feeling of “it’s our town, it’s our school.” I think you get the best of both worlds. We’re large enough to offer most things, but we’re small enough that someone’s going to let parents know if their child’s doing something they’re not supposed to be, and I think that’s good.
There’s still a real pride about being a Borden Graduate, or a Henryville graduate or a Silver Creek graduate. I think there’s more than ever a feeling that we’re all West Clark, but they’re still very proud of the community where they came from.
More districts are embracing 1:1 initiatives [laptops for every student]. Do you have one coming down the pipeline?
We have no timeline and that’ll be something Dr. Reed will discuss with our staff and our technology department. That can be good, but it doesn’t replace the traditional method. We’ve gotten a few inquiries. Greater Clark is doing that district-wide and New Albany-Floyd is pursuing a bond issue to pay for it. Clarksville has been talking about a tech school in a separate facility. It’s something that’s talked about more. I think sometimes it’s to give you a niche that you can sell your school on and technology is very important.
We feel like we do not have take-home computers, but there’s a lot of technology in the corporation with SMART Boards. We’ve got a much better than 1 to 2 computer ratio for all of our students, so I’m sure there’ll be things we’ll look at. But whether we decide to go in that direction, we’re not close to making any decision.
The state’s pushing more initiatives geared toward technical training to put students in the job market right out of high school. How is West Clark accommodating that?
We’re already offering quite a few college courses for credit and I’m sure we’ll be doing more of that. We use Prosser extensively and I think they do a great job.
Quite frankly, I think the state, a lot of times, grades schools on how many students they put into college. I think we should be sending more students to Prosser and getting them ready for the world of work. It seems nationally and statewide, we’ve got a lot of college graduates that are not able to find jobs or jobs they’re trained for. But yet, I don’t know too many plumbers, electricians and people like that who are without jobs. Many of them can get very good jobs fresh out of school. I certainly think we need to continue the emphasis on that and not just college graduates.
Overall, how do you feel about this school year?
I feel good about it. I’ve been at this a long time and I’m always excited when another year starts. But it does not seem like the first month or so gets any easier.
Getting ready for school and with the balanced calendar that just about everyone in the area is on now, certainly compressed the summer where we had less than two months to get ready for the next school year. It’s not going to get any better next year, so that poses some challenges. A long time ago when I started, summers were a little more relaxed than they are now. I know the maintenance and custodial staff felt like they were really just pushed this summer with probably a couple weeks less time than they’ve had. It’s going to be a race every summer to get ready for the next school year.