School districts plan for change

HANCOCK COUNTY — It’s been a year of change for local school districts, and 2016 promises to bring plenty more.

From new programs to facilities upgrades, something new is on the horizon at each corporation in 2016.

Here’s a look, district by district, at what is expected in the next year.

Southern Hancock

At the start of the 2016-17 school year, freshmen at New Palestine High School will be the first to take part in the district’s early college program.The program, a partnership with Vincennes University, which offers participating students enough advance courses to earn an associate’s degree by the close of their senior year. About 50 students will be selected for the program after an application and interview process, said Adam Barton, dean of students at New Palestine High School. Upon graduation, those students will receive both a high school diploma and a general education associate degree.

Interest for the program is high, Barton said. More than 70 eighth-graders applied for the program and more than 80 parents attended an information meeting held in December.

Classes taken during the program are transferable to all public state colleges. The program will cost as little as $2,400, nearly $15,000 less than the cost of an associate degree from a public college.

Eastern Hancock

Renovations to Eastern Hancock facilities are expected to start this summer. The school board in December approved a plan to borrow $500,000 to repair the high school and middle school’s aging roof and window. School officials say they’re aiming to complete those renovations in 2016.

Greenfield-Central

About 700 Greenfield Central Junior High School students will receive a MacBook Air laptop in August as part of the district’s digital-learning initiative, which was first introduced at the high school last fall.Director of technology Greg Thompson said the district will build on the approach taken at the high school by offering a technology help desk in the junior high library for students to take their devices when they need assistance.Several members of the district’s technology staff will split time between the junior high and high school buildings, Thompson said. He’s also considering extending the high school’s tech cadet program, which trains seniors and juniors to help other students troubleshoot technology problems, to the junior high, he said.

Thompson expects delivery of the MacBooks by mid-summer, he said.

The junior high building, which opened in 2010, already has the infrastructure to support the added demand on the building’s wireless-internet network, so the transition to the new program won’t require any significant facilities upgrades, Thompson said.

Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon school officials are currently searching for a director to lead the district’s new special education program, which will serve roughly 600 students with special needs.They hope to have the position filled by March 14.In December, Mt. Vernon School Corp. received approval to withdraw from a multi-county special education cooperative that served its students for decades, spurring a shift to an in-house program.

Superintendent Shane Robbins said the move will allow the district more oversight in staffing decisions and programs. The district had paid $1.65 million to the co-op annually for services, some of which Mt. Vernon students didn’t use, Robbins said. The shift to in-house programming could save between $350,000 and $500,000 each year, depending on how many students need services.

School officials are also awaiting the findings of a district study that an outside research group is completing to identify how to best handle increasing enrollment. The district gained 121 students this year, and the high school is nearing capacity.

About this series

The Daily Reporter is giving readers a heads-up on 2016. From public safety to government and education, our looking-ahead series tells you what’s coming up in Hancock County. 

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.