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TELL CITY – More than 600 students have taken advantage of offerings at the Perry County Learning Academy in the nearly five years it's been open, earning either high-school diplomas they might never have received or the right to walk across the commencement platform with members of their original graduating classes.
Academy Executive Director Mike Bishop presented information at a board-of-directors meeting Tuesday, recapping the alternative school's success since its doors at Tell City's Schergens Center opened to students in January 2004. When he started assembling information for the presentation, he said, “I didn't realize how powerful it would be when I put it all together.”
Students have long dropped out of school for many reasons, including struggles that sometimes begin well before they enter high school, Tell City High School Principal Dale Stewart said as efforts to launch the academy were being pursued in late 2003. A collaborative effort involving all three of the county's school systems began with discussions earlier that year after they received grants targeted at students for whom traditional classroom study did not result in diplomas.
Cannelton School Board members voted in November 2005 to withdraw from the alliance, feeling they could provide its services better on their own and saying some students had trouble getting to the site.
Classes were recently added at Perry Central Community School, and Bishop said 15 students are enrolled. Classes there are conducted from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in conjunction with an after-school program that already existed, he explained.
“It's all independent study, so we offer a broad range of classes,” he said.
The director said he hears from a former student now and then, and whether they're now in the work force or pursuing further education, “I tend to think they're all success stories.”
Bishop said he had a lot of help from Rob Moore, director of the North Spencer Alternative Education Center in Dale, in establishing Perry County's program. Since then, he's had to constantly look at and adapt the local curriculum in responses to student needs and changes at the state level.
“The original vision of the program was to be heavily involved in providing services to adults,” Bishop said. While it continues to serve that mission, the program here has become more focused on credit recovery,” he explained. “We still serve adults, but credit recovery, helping students stay on track, has become our greatest reward. If they can walk across the stage and be handed their diploma, we feel we've done what we set out to do.”
Sixty-nine students are currently enrolled in credit-recovery classes, Bishop reported at Tuesday's meeting. In other regular business, Ron Etienne and Mary Roberson, superintendents for Tell City-Troy Township and Perry Central school corporations, respectively, voted as the academy's board of directors to pay 60 percent of the cost of a T1 computer line providing Internet connectivity to the city-owned Schergens Center. Roberson said city officials had asked about the academy sharing the cost, and its usage is at least that much.
At any time in its short history, the center has had some number of students considered at risk of dropping out, Bishop said.
“There are many reasons they come here, and many use this as an alternative to quitting altogether,” he added. “I think we've found our niche. We see consistent numbers each year.”
Bishop thinks the students who appear at his door are well-served, “but that's not to say there aren't students who aren't being served.” He's certain more adults exist in the community who never earned high-school diplomas.
“There's no age limit,” he emphasized. “We had one lady in her 30s who earned her diploma. We have an open-door policy.”
Anyone who'd like to ask how the learning academy can help them should call 547-6942.