Mt. Vernon to track alumni

FORTVILLE — What happened to the Class of 2010? Mt. Vernon High School will soon find out.

In a program launching this year, alumni from up to five years ago will be contacted to determine whether the high school’s courses were rigorous enough to prepare students for college and beyond.

A guidance secretary was hired to, in part, survey former students to see how they did in college and whether they felt prepared enough to excel.

“We’re really excited about it because it will tell us what we’re doing well and where we need to improve,” said MVHS assistant principal Greg Roach.

The program is unique: Administrators from Hancock County’s three other high schools only informally ask students how their courses are preparing students. While Mt. Vernon officials had been doing that for years as well, they hope tangible data from alumni will provide a more scientific approach.

Details of the program are not ironed out yet, but there will likely be an online survey for alumni to fill out. Roach said the school has phone numbers, email addresses and parent phone numbers for alumni, so they hope to be able to reach most, if not all, of their graduates from five years ago.

“What things did we do here at Mt. Vernon that were strengths?” Roach said. “What can we get better at, and what things are we missing that we haven’t even thought of?”

The rigor of the school’s Advanced Placement courses is one example of the type of information that could be collected. Administrators already know whether students are passing AP exams in high school, but it’s hard to tell whether the courses are preparing them for higher-level learning in college, Roach said.

Even students who didn’t take AP courses could provide feedback on the high school’s general curriculum, he said. The survey could include questions about how well students felt prepared and leave room for open-ended comments.

Shelly Watt was hired for the job this month and also will do clerical work in the office to give guidance counselors more time to work with students, Roach said.

Administrators for Hancock County’s three other high schools said they see merit in Mt. Vernon’s new program.

“We do not do anything that organized,” said Dave Pfaff, principal of Eastern Hancock High School. “We do anecdotal; we talk to kids as they come back to visit. ‘Did you feel prepared? What went well, what didn’t go well?’”

Pfaff said formally surveying students takes time and money, though he can see where contacting all former students would provide useful data.

So can Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield-Central school board.

“I think this would help us with our career-planning efforts to see the success or areas we need to enhance,” she said. “I just think it would give us an understanding of the path students are choosing when they leave our building.”

Greenfield-Central High School officials also informally ask students about their college experience through a focus group that gathers during winter break, Principal Steve Bryant said.

A survey of alumni may be on the horizon at New Palestine High School. Officials are exploring the feasibility of launching a similar program to track former students, Principal Keith Fessler said.

It’s hard to tell what the results of Mt. Vernon’s survey might be, Roach said: They might be pleased that students felt well-prepared when for college or career. Or they might discover trends and realize one or more of their courses needs to be revamped.

“It will help us in judging the rigor of our courses,” Roach said. “Is it right where it needs to be? Is it not rigorous enough?”