Schools, taxes and students

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By Ken Begley


There was a very long article in the Sun by our editor Jesse Osbourne a couple of weeks ago on a proposed increase in property taxes used to support our public schools in Washington County. The request for an increase came to the school board asking for their approval.  Ultimately it was voted down.

It sounded like the board meeting became pretty heated at times from the story.
You know I couldn’t help but feel that both sides had some truth in what they had to say. That’s generally when arguments become hardest to solve.
Yet, I really liked one sited observation in that article by Jesse.
It was made by principal Amanda Mattingly of North Washington.  She said, “This is a difficult discussion that we have every year. I don’t want this decision to let us all look over all the great things that really are happening in Washington County Schools.”
That’s right.
Just because you might be against a tax increase, you still need to judge the efforts of our school staff and faculty separately and fairly.
You know what?
I used to be a school board member at St. Dominic’s. I bleed St. Dominic’s blue and white. I love that school and their teachers. But all my kids have gone or are going to Washington County High. I have been stunned by the excellent results of my children coming out of that public institution.
Here’s an example.
Last week there was a tiny picture on page 11 of the Sun. It showed or mentioned some 47 WCHS students that took and passed the AP during the 2011-12 school year. You probably missed it.
Do you know what “AP” means?
Most people don’t.
It stands for “Advanced Placement.”
It means that those 47 students took college-level courses at WCHS over the school year. But unlike college courses, these students then had to take a nationwide exam and pass it before they were awarded college credit. This is to ensure that the passing grade they got was earned and not given.
I’m not allowed to see these kids’ records, but my son was among them. Will received six college credit hours for English from the University of Louisville for passing that AP test. Will now has 18 college credit hours at the end of his junior year at WCHS in total.  That’s a good full semester of college credit. This is not uncommon up at WCHS and I’m sure some students have passed him up.
Not only are these challenging courses preparing him for college, but now he doesn’t even have to take a lot of classes that he would have otherwise. It saves money and time when college comes, and let me assure you, time is money when talking about college.
In addition, WCHS is bringing in several other college-level courses taught directly by local colleges in addition to AP courses. These classes cost the parents, and we do pay for them out of our pockets, a fraction of the price of what colleges and universities charge.
Do you know what that adds up to in savings each year in real dollars to families?
It depends on the college, but probably the north side of a few hundred thousand a year in total.
In addition, most students that attend college are booted out in the first year due to being unprepared for school. Believe me, if your kid takes AP courses and fails the nationwide exam, they are still more prepared for college than one that doesn’t even attempt it.
The proof also comes from former students like Katie Cambron, who won the prestigious McConnell Scholarship sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell. You know, only 10 of those are awarded each year and those folks at times have gotten to meet the President of the United States.
In addition, a year ago we had two graduating seniors at WCHS that were National Merit Scholar winners.
How big an honor was that?
Well, 1.5 million students took the test that year. Only 15,000 became finalists. Two came from Washington County.  You have better odds at winning the lottery then becoming a National Merit Scholar finalist.
Oh, and in case you didn’t hear about it, KET Television came down to WCHS to film several of the classes in action. The producer of the show told me that they were filming classes like those at WCHS in order to show other teachers how to increase their effectiveness. I could be wrong, but that sure sounded like a compliment to me from more outsiders.
The students are obviously blessed with remarkable skills at times, but they have to be mentored and I’ve met some great teachers up there.
One fellow is named Mr. Ryan New.  He gave my son the lowest score he’s received to date in all his classes, by the way. Yet I have to say Mr. New is the hardest and most driving individual teacher that can inspire students that want to learn. Last year he took his planning period and set up a class to teach more students in ancient literature. He also went to St. Catharine College and got them to sanction it for college credits, as well.  I don’t know many people that say, “Hey, I need more work to do that I won’t get paid extra for.” How about you?
Another is this Mrs. Millie Blandford. She’s one of the few teachers I know that my kids have really enjoyed while making science fun to learn. That takes incredible skill. She’s won a few awards for this, as well.
Finally, there is Mrs. Sarah Raikes.
She established and runs the largest and most active chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America in the state of Kentucky. This organization shapes and molds our youth into leaders by doing community service jobs in conjunction with academic competitions.
The result has been numerous awards and many of our local students have been sent on to be statewide leaders in the program.  In fact, Mrs. Raikes herself has been recognized by her peers by being selected for prestigious awards and was selected as president of the Kentucky Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
By the way, if you go by the school on weekends and frequently late at night you will see Mrs. Raikes’ car still there.  I think at times we need to all chip in and buy her a cot to put next to her desk because I don’t know when she sleeps.
So if the McConnell Scholarship people, KET, The National Merit Scholarship organization and other groups are taking the time or selecting our students, the product of a public educational system, for awards and recognition, then doesn’t that say we have a pretty good school system?
A student can get a great public education in Washington County, but they have to want it.
The instructors are there.
We can always argue about how efficiently things are run or if tax increases are needed.
But I have to agree with principal Amanda Mattingly. Don’t let that argument overshadow the fact that great things are happening in our public schools.
We can be proud of our students and thankful for our teachers.