Education

WKU

A former swim team member at WKU has filed a federal lawsuit against the school.

The suit was filed by Collin Craig whose allegations of hazing and underage alcohol consumption resulted in a five-year suspension of WKU’s swimming program. 

The suit names WKU, former head swimming coach Bruce Marchionda, and an associate head coach.  Athletic director Todd Stewart is also a defendant along with two associate athletic directors and three former teammates. 

The 21-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court claims Craig suffered verbal, physical, and emotional abuse.  The suit alleges the coach and others knew of the abuse and didn’t take action. 

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.  The university said Thursday it had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Teachers, parents and politicians have long wrestled with the question:

How important is preschool?

A new answer comes in the form of a study — out of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. — that is as clear as it is controversial.

Kentucky Department of Education

The Kentucky Board of Education has voted to hire Stephen Pruitt as the state’s next education commissioner. 

Pruitt is senior vice president of Achieve Inc., an education reform organization.  He also served in various roles with the Georgia Department of Education before joining Achieve, Inc. in 2010. 

In a special meeting Wednesday, Board Chairman Roger Marcum read a statement from Pruitt.

"As a classroom teacher, a state administrator, and a vice president for an education non-profit, my focus has always been on doing what is best for students and that will not change as commissioner," Pruitt stated.

The state Board of Education will meet October 6 to ratify a contract with Pruitt.  He is expected to start his new duties later in the month.

Pruitt replaces Terry Holliday who retired in late August.

Lisa Autry

Some students in the Warren County school system are getting a musical education with help from The Symphony at WKU. 

The strings program at Warren Elementary was presented with 14 violins and violas Tuesday.  The program, funded by donations, allows students to learn how to play an instrument at no cost during the school day. 

Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton says the strings program gives every student the same opportunity.

"This is a prime example of one of our schools that has a more challenging environment in terms of the students they serve," Clayton told WKU Public Radio.  "They will now have more students involved in the program than any of the other elementary schools, which speaks volumes to our commitment to equity across our district."

The strings program is now in nearly every school in the Warren County system.  The program began in 2003 with 21 students and currently has 750 enrolled.

Lisa Autry

Community colleges across Tennessee are starting the academic year with a higher-than-usual number of students.  That’s because of a first-year program called Tennessee Promise, an initiative that provides new high school graduates two years of tuition-free attendance at community and technical colleges in the state. 

Richard Briley is one of the new faces at Nashville State Community College.  The future business major says that without Tennessee Promise he would have probably enrolled at a four-year school and taken on a lot of debt.

“I’d probably be going to TSU, Tennessee State University, but I would have to take out a loan," explained Briley.

On the first day of classes, Briley and other students got to meet one of the architects of Tennessee Promise, Governor Bill Haslam.

"Just out of curiosity, how many of you are the first person in your family to get to go to college," asked Haslam.

Half of the students in the room raised their hands.

"At this point in time, if I said what will keep you from walking across the stage and getting a two or four-year degree, what are you most worried will stop that from happening," Haslam asked.

The resounding answer was money. 

Tennessee Promise is the first statewide program of its kind in the nation.  About 16,000 students are attending the state’s 13 community colleges, about a ten percent jump over last fall, according to Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause.

Owensboro Little Free Library is Big Push for Literacy

Sep 16, 2015
Owensboro Public Schools

Literacy is getting a big push at Owensboro Public Schools with a new program called “Little Free Library.” The libraries are so little  they’re contained in a two-foot by two-foot weatherproof box that looks like a birdhouse and hangs on the outside of the school.

The little library holds about 25 books that are there for the taking 24/7. There are no fines for overdue books and no return dates.

Cortney Inklebarger is principal at Cravens Elementary, the first of six schools to have a Little Free Library.

"This is something that’s a little bit more, you know, I put something in and I get to keep it. I don’t necessarily have to bring this back," said Inklebarger. "The goal is to give a book, take a book, but if a student just takes one and they love it so much and they just want to keep it and they don't have something to put back in there, that’s fine with me.”

While students have  been excited about taking and giving books, even coming by over the weekend when school is closed, Inklebarger said the project is one more step in the long-term goal of improving  literacy.

"We promote all the time for our students to read 20, 30 minutes a day. Even if you just go with the 20 minutes a day, if a student reads 20 minutes a day throughout the school year, that’s 3,600 minutes," she said. "Their standardized test scores go up, their vocabulary increases. So the more we can get books in our students’ hands, the more we can promote literacy.

The Cravens Elementary Little Free Library was installed on Sept. 3. The second one will be located at Newton Parrish Elementary on Sept. 21.

Local banks are partnering with six Owensboro schools to support the project.  

Somerset Community College

Somerset Community College has opened a time capsule that was sealed into a wall when the school opened in 1965.  

The vault for the time capsule was in the blueprints for the building, but current school leaders only found out about it when they were interviewing alumni for a 50th anniversary story on the college.

SCC Director of Advancement Cindy Clouse said one thing that stood out about the 50-year-old items was the most common material of the day – paper.

"It kind of does kind of signify the times of 1965. You know, everything was probably a little bit simpler," said Clouse. "Technology wasn't around , so everything then was on paper. So most of the items we received were paper."

The time capsule included newspapers and brochures about the school, as well as the signatures of all the 16 members of the faculty and staff at the time. Those items from 1965 provide a clear comparison that shows the growth of the school. The faculty and staff now numbers more 300. The school opened with 275 students in 1965 and current enrollment is more than 7,000.

Clouse said the school is gathering items to re-load the  time capsule, which will be opened 50 years from now.

“We have a list of all the faculty and staff that we’re going to place inside. A lot of students put in pictures of their clubs. Our student government association wants to burn a CD of the music that people are listening to now,” said Clouse.

Students decided there’s one important item that has to go into the time capsule because it’s so symbolic of our time. That item is a cell phone.

Conway/Overly campaign

Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Jack Conway released his education plan in Louisville Tuesday.

In it, Conway continues his push for more early childhood education programs in the state. His plan aims to expand access to preschoolers in families at 138 percent of the poverty level.

The big question is, though, how the state would pay for that expansion.

Conway said the state can restructure how much of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement money would go toward early childhood education, which currently receives about one-fourth of the funds. State government could vie for more federal support and apply for more grants, too, he said.

However, Conway said eliminating government waste would be the major source of funding.

“Potentially we could maybe double the funding for early childhood education in the first budget, and that is something that I am going to shoot to do,” he said during a news conference at the main public library in downtown Louisville.

Kevin Willis

A new support center at WKU will provide help to the more than 2,000 students with military backgrounds.

The Military Student Support Center at the WKU-Glasgow campus was officially opened at a ceremony Wednesday. Military Student Services Director Tonya Archey says the center will assist students from all over the world who are enrolled in WKU classes.

“We have Coast Guard students in Florida right now, we have active duty Navy in Hawaii right now, and we have students serving all over the world, in Europe and Asia. It’s hard to get admitted when you’re stationed in Korea, for example. It’s hard to navigate the admissions process from overseas. So they call us and we help them through that process.”

Archey says completing college admissions and financial aid forms can be complicated for any student. But she says it can be especially daunting for military students, who face additional paperwork related to admissions and benefits they are entitled to based on their service.

The Kentucky Department of Education has released the names of the five candidates under consideration for commissioner. The list includes one candidate from Kentucky. 

  • Buddy Berry, superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Kentucky.
  • Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Tennessee Department of Education 
  • Christopher Koch, interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation
  • Lloyd Martin, chief executive officer for Universal School Solutions, an education consultancy firm
  • Stephen Pruitt, senior vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent, nonprofit education reform organization. 

The Kentucky Board of Education will meet Friday and Saturday in Lexington to conduct second interviews with each of the five candidates.

The new commissioner will replace current Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is retiring next week.

The board has selected Associate Commissioner and General Counsel Kevin Brown to serve as interim commissioner starting Sept. 1 until a new commissioner can begin.

Innovation is Key at New Owensboro High School

Aug 26, 2015
Rhonda J. Miller

Students are changing classes at the new regional high school, Owensboro Innovation Academy. There’s a lot of “change” and a lot of “new” at this school. 

First of all, it’s not in a typical high school building. It’s in the Owensboro Centre for Business and Research.

The principal, Beth Benjamin, says she’s called the “director.”  And Benjamin says teachers aren’t called teachers.

“They’re called facilitators. And that is because we want students to take ownership of their own learning. So they kind of determine what they need to know and then the teachers are there to facilitate that learning and then to provide any direct instruction that’s needed. But it’s definitely a team effort.”

Superintendent of Owensboro schools Nick Brake says the facilitator role encourages respect for students.

“It’s not so much the sage on the stage where everybody bows to the teacher. It really allows more of an adult-to-adult, peer-to-peer type of relationship and the students have to respect that, in the same way they would respect any other adult relationship.”

Flickr/Creative Commons/BES Photos

Foiled in state court, a Jefferson County Public Schools teacher filed a federal court suit Monday claiming the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System illegally raised teachers’ share of pension contributions to shore up a retirement plan that is only half-funded.

Randolph “Randy” Wieck, a history teacher at DuPont Manual High School, launched the legal battle last November by filing suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court. The case was dismissed with a recommendation that it be refiled in Franklin County, he said.

Instead, Wieck filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville. As before, Wieck is asking that the roughly 141,000 teachers and school system retirees in Kentucky be allowed to participate in the suit. He is joined in the suit by Manual English teacher Betsey Bell and retired Manual librarian and English teacher Jane Norman.

Kentucky’s active and retired teachers are apprehensive about the solvency of their state-funded retirement. As of its last audited annual financial report on June 30, 2014, KTRS was only 53.6 percent funded with $16.2 billion in assets and $30.2 billion in obligations. A bill calling for the sale of $3.3 billion in bonds, which would have raised the KTRS funding level to 66 percent, failed in the 2015 legislative session.

Kentucky lags behind national averages for ACT college-readiness benchmarks in core subjects, with the biggest deficit in math.

The best performance among Kentucky's 2015 high school graduates was in English, with 60 percent of students meeting the ACT college-readiness benchmark. The national average was 64 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the organization that administers the exam.

The report says Kentucky's lowest scores were in math and science. Thirty-two percent of Kentucky test-takers achieved the college-readiness measurement both in math and science. National averages were 42 percent in math and 38 percent in science.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is retiring, says the low math score should be a motivator for action. Holliday says it's time the state puts together a math task force and looks at teacher preparation.

Flickr/Creative Commons/my_southborough

Kentucky inmates earned dramatically fewer GED diplomas since the test switched in January 2014 from a paper-based test to a more rigorous version taken on a computer, according to the state Department of Corrections.

In the 2013 fiscal year — the last full year the previous test was given — Kentucky prison and jail inmates earned 1,135 GED diplomas. In the 2015 fiscal year ending in June, 126 GED diplomas were awarded to Kentucky inmates.

The 89 percent decline means that fewer inmates have been awarded “educational good time,” which reduces prison sentences by 90 days for each inmate who earns a diploma.

The department declined a request for an interview. But in an email response to questions posed by Kentucky Public Radio, the department said that it had responded to recent changes to the test “with frustration.”

Clinton Lewis-WKU

WKU President Gary Ransdell says the university is at a crossroads in three areas: enrollment, state funding, and employee compensation. 

While noting many of the university’s achievements, Ransdell also outlined the school’s challenges to faculty and staff in his opening convocation Friday morning. 

Faced with an enrollment decline in the last couple of years, WKU is focusing more on recruitment and retention.  Dr. Ransdell said some of the efforts are beginning to pay off.

"As of this week, our first-time incoming student numbers are up slightly," Ransdell noted.  "Our part-time undergraduate numbers have stabilized, but our part-time graduate numbers are still tracking downward.  Our biggest challenge, however, is a 23 percent drop in continuing full-time freshmen."

Dr. Ransdell also addressed the continuing challenge of less state funding. 

"The last year Kentucky increased base funding for higher education was 2006," added Ransdell.  "By the time the 2016 budget is considered next spring, we will have suffered through a lost decade of state support for higher education."

President Ransdell said he will ask the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly to restore cuts to higher education and change the way funds are allocated to a performance-based model.  He said given the school’s growth and degree productivity, WKU would fare better in the next state budget.  He added that the increased funding would help pay for faculty\staff salary increases, which Ransdell called a top priority for next year.

The fall semester at WKU begins Monday. 

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