Students address board regarding program closure

RACHEL KELLER COLLINS/The Tribune-Courier

Approximately 15 former Quest Academy students from MCHS and a handful of their parents attended the Marshall County Board of Education meeting last week to express their displeasure with the closure of Quest Academy and how its discontinuance was handled.

Approximately 15 Marshall County High School students and a handful of parents attended last week's Marshall County Board of Education meeting to express their concern with the closure of the school's project-based learning (PBL) program, Quest Academy (QA), and how that closure was handled.

Two of the students in attendance, Lela Free and Korbin Brandon, both juniors at MCHS, stood in front of the crowd and addressed the board openly with their concerns.

Free reiterated some of the concerns she expressed during a recent interview with The Tribune-Courier, saying the students who participated in QA weren't told until the last day of school in May that the program would not continue and that their parents were never formally notified. She told the board members their main purpose in coming forward is urging the importance of creating a pathway for PBL at the high school level. She said transitioning out of the program after only two years as a high school student was difficult, so she's concerned about the difficulty for future students who have been in PBL programs since kindergarten.

Brandon pointed toward a poster on the board room wall which displays the 'graduate profile,' highlighting key qualities needed for success in life after high school--qualities which the schools aim to nurture in all students. He said he wasn't aware of any program offered that better prepared students to meet those qualities than QA.

While Brandon credited Principal Patricia Greer for coming to tell the students herself of the program's closure, he said overall he believes it was mishandled. He told the board members he, like other students, was under the impression he would be able to complete four years of the QA program, which is why he turned down the opportunity over the summer to move to the Florida Keys.

"I love this county and school but you guys have almost stolen my school spirit and it really hurts me," he said.

Brandon said he believes all of the former QA students understand the program is not coming back but hopes to see the district implement ways to transition incoming students who in elementary and middle school students adjusted to the PBL style of learning into the high school where that program is no longer offered.

Mary Rascoe, parent of Free, said she signed a contract allowing her child into the program and invested in the program--but found out about its closure via text message from her daughter.

"I'm hurt," she said. "We're stakeholders, we parents are, and the students are as well."

Rascoe said she hopes to see the administration work together with the students to repair the damage that has been done to the students, especially the juniors.

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett said the board's only involvement is how many teachers are provided to each school, which is based off of enrollment. He said the formula for reaching that number is looking at the number of students enrolled and then dividing that by 27; from that point, he explained, it's up to the school's site based decision-making council and staff to appropriate.

"There were some tough decisions Ms. Greer and her staff had to make because the program numbers dwindled and the incoming number has to be there to keep the program going," he said.

Then speaking directly to the students added, "I appreciate all of you being here and love the way you all spoke to us…I know part of that is because of QA and I appreciate that. I know some of you and have watched you grow and know that standing up in front of a group to talk is a big deal."

Lovett went on to say he is "a big proponent of PBL" and hopes the students and high school administration can work together to create a pathway for the incoming students.

"I agree there's a group coming we need to be prepared for and I hope you all are part of the solution," he said.

Diane Barga, a board member and retired educator, told the students she was proud to see they feel so strongly about their education. She noted the board doesn't usually hear controversy regarding academics and she thinks there should be more.

"Keep your voice," she added. "It's good to hear it."

In other business:

• The board members approved the tax rates for 2019, which all remained the same as last year. Those rates are available for inspection in the Classified section of this edition. Marshall County Schools Finance Officer Jill Monroe noted this is the fifth year the Marshall County School District has kept the same rates. She also noted the district ranks 63 out of 173 for the equivalent tax, 23 out of 173 for the property tax and only five other districts out of 173 charge a lower motor vehicle tax than Marshall.

• The board members appointed Jeremy Rowe, Danny Musgrave and Grant Mathis as the community member representatives on the Local Planning Committee. Lovett said there were five people who volunteered to fill the three open spaces this year and he was pleasantly surprised because he typically has to seek out people to fill those spots. Because they had more volunteer than spaces available, he put the names on slips of paper in a cup and had three MCHS students draw one name each out of the cup.

• The board members approved the payment of a number of bills for ongoing projects within the district as well as approved the purchase of five new buses and a $7,000 project at North Marshall Middle School to expand the Discovery classroom to accommodate the growing class size.