"They came from a very supportive environment in the middle school and are turned loose here."
In 2002, the numbers improved, but next year, Howard hopes the problem will continue to shrink, thanks to a $2.3 million federal grant awarded Tuesday to seven Kentucky schools, including Lincoln.
Lincoln County High School will receive $207,000 of the grant over a period of three years. The grant, which is in response to schools in high poverty areas with struggling freshmen classes, is to be used to improve transition strategies.
The grant was awarded to the Kentucky Education Development Cooperative, which will be responsible for distributing the money. School committees will decide which strategies to implement.
"What I plan to do is get a committee of teachers, students, parents and administrators together to come up with the best way to implement better freshmen transition strategies," said Howard.
A freshman academy is one option
Howard said several strategies will be considered, including a freshmen academy in the same building, or academic teaming. While not finalized, some school council members say a freshmen academy would hurt more than help. At the academy, freshmen would be grouped in classes separate from the rest of the school population, joining them only for elective classes.
Some parents have said they feel keeping freshmen out of the general population for a year will only hinder the development of their social and academic skills when they rejoin the rest of students.
Howard said the freshmen academy is not a forgone conclusion and is one option in a list of several possible strategies, all set to create a small-town atmosphere for freshmen struggling in a large population.
"The goal is to make a large school feel smaller, more personal," said Howard. "We want the kids to have the same supportive environment, but with a little more freedom in the high school."
Projects already allotted to receive grant money in Lincoln County include staff stipends for teacher training and overtime, teachers' materials and supplies, and a portable computer lab, complete with 30 laptops. The lab will come equipped with software to help students make future career goals and plans.
The grant will fund a reading improvement program to help bring freshmen reading skills up to standards, and it will address non-academic improvement indicators.
Attendance rate is an issue
Non-academic indicators, such as attendance, have been a constant issue with the freshmen classes. A good attendance rate is 94 percent, but at one point only 91 percent of freshmen were attending school. According to Howard, Lincoln County High School has had the highest dropout rate in the area, though recent rates have shown great improvement.
"This grant is just one more tool to work on non-cognitive issues. They're not academic issues, but they 100 percent affect academic performance," said Assistant Principal Wes Cornett.
Non-cognitive issues, such as dropout rates, also were addressed through a new advising program initiated this school year to help keep students in desks and off the streets. Grant money was used to help alleviate the costs of new materials, project binders and student planners for freshmen.
The advising program paired teachers with small groups of students, less than 20 when possible, who will meet twice a month for lessons in time management, civility, honesty and career planning. Teachers agree the more personal groups have helped build teacher/student relationships and have saved some students from the frustration of falling through the cracks.
"This is a huge grant for the high school, and we're hopping this will help push us over the top with our success," said Howard.
Emily Burton can be reached at email@example.com.