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Three-year grant to fight underage drinking

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By Vince Luecke

Perry Central project awarded $586,607; Etienne honored for 28 years of service on board

LEOPOLD - A U.S. Department of Education grant worth $586,607 will fund a three-year effort within Perry Central Community Schools to reduce alcohol use by students, including binge drinking. The project, which begins July 1, aims to involve not just students, but parents, social workers and community organizers already battling the effects of teen drinking.

Perry Central's Success Through Action Reduces Substance Abuse, a program known by the acronym STARS, was awarded the grant, which was announced at the June 16 meeting of the school board.

Nationwide, 44.9 percent of high-school students reported drinking alcohol during the past 30 days, a 2007 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported, and nearly 30 percent said they had drank five or more drinks at one time.

"Our numbers mirror those for the nation and the state," Perry Central Assistant Superintendent Tara Bishop said during her announcement of the grant.

The STARS program will serve all students in sixth through 12th grades as well as students enrolled in the Perry County Learning Academy, an alternative school supported by Perry Central and Tell City-Troy Township school corporations.

Perry Central students in grades 6-8 will participate in alcohol-prevention programs designed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Project Northland, a community-wide alcohol-use prevention initiative sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Project Northland's goals are to delay the ages when young people begin drinking, lessen the number of alcohol-related problems faced by students and reduce alcohol use by young people who have already tried drinking.

Another program, STARS for Families, will engage students in discussions and activities with their parents at home.

High-school students will participate in Class Action, another Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration program that invites students to examine the social and legal consequences of underage drinking by high-school students, including alcohol-related fatalities.

Teens and young adults between ages 16 and 24 comprise only 20 percent of the licensed population, but they cause 42 percent of all fatal alcohol-related crashes, government reports show, and underage alcohol use is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs, combined.

Alternative-school and at-risk students will take part in similar alcohol-use prevention programs. Grant funding will allow for the hiring of a social worker, who will coordinate the program with a prevention task force of school and community leaders. That group will work with families and community agencies to identify and reduce the root causes of alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

The grant will expand Perry Central's Afternoons Rock program and will pay for the random alcohol and drug testing of students who drive to school or take part in sports or other extracurricular activities. The board approved a policy this spring that allows random testing.

Etienne Honored

Attending his last meeting as a member of the school board, Charlie Etienne was treated to cake, punch and fond words last week. Joining the board in 1980, Etienne served as president of the group for all but two or three of his 28-year tenure.

"It's hard to express the debt of gratitude we owe Charlie Etienne," Schools Superintendent Mary Roberson said. "Charlie has given 28 years of his life to a job he's taken very seriously."

Etienne chose not to seek re-election this year. Tim Edwards will join the board next month.

Bishop outlined some of the school-district accomplishments undertaken with Etienne's leadership, including a 1999 building addition and renovation, sixth-grade office area, vocational building and a new track and pavilion.

Educational programs begun while he was on the board, Bishop said, include full-day kindergarten and Perry Central's Family Outreach and Lights On programs.

Back in 1980, Perry Central had a handful of Commodore 64 computers. Today, it offers students 400 personal computers connected to the world by the Internet.

"We're glad they were named (the Commodore computers) after us but we're happy we have something better to use," Bishop joked.

In athletics, Perry Central went from a football underdog to a perennial powerhouse and won sectional and regional crowns in several sports.

Among the most impressive signs of Perry Central's growth, Bishop and Roberson said, are the number of Perry Central teachers and administrators who are alumni. Nineteen current teachers and four administrators are Commodore grads, they said.

"We've hired good administrators and that makes our jobs easier," Etienne said. "We've always tried to hire the best and it's good to see so many of them are Perry Central graduates."

The credit for school accomplishments should not go to him, Etienne said, pointing to the work of administrators, teachers and fellow board members.

During that time, Perry Central had only three superintendents and Etienne said the small turnover is another sign that things have been going well for the district.

Fellow board members offered their own compliments. "You've done a lot for the school corporation," said Larry James, who also arrived on the board with Etienne in 1980 and served several years before leaving and then returning. "I'm proud to shake your hand for what you've done."

"There have been a lot of positive changes and you've had a lot to do with them," said board member Kevin Etienne.

"Your leadership has been great," board member Steve Poole added.

Contract with Teachers

The board approved an agreement ratifying a one-year contract with teachers that offers a retroactive 3.25-percent salary increase.

A cost-saving change in the agreement affects the eligibility of employees' spouses for health insurance Beginning with the 2008-09 school year, spouses who have access to health coverage at a cost to them of less than $1,500 per year that is comparable to Perry Central's plan, will no longer be eligible for coverage.

Perry Central's salary schedule calls for starting teachers with master's degrees to be paid $36,600 per year. After 10 years, the same teacher will make $43,675.

The salary schedule caps out after 17 years, with a teacher earning $60,725. Teachers who complete coursework beyond a master's degree earn slightly more.

The board's next meeting, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. July 14.