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Silver Grove Schools May Become k-8 Only as District Weighs Options

When the state test scores were released at the end of September, Silver Grove Independent Schools was the lowest-ranked of Kentucky's 174 school districts.
Since then, parents have demanded answers from district leaders and the board of education. A letter sent home to parents late last month by Superintendent Dennis Maines hints at changes to come. Board of Education Chair Melanie Pelle posted to Facebook that the district should consider eliminating its high school and becoming a K-8 district, like Southgate Independent (which ranked 143). Other possibilities presented by officials and the public include fully merging the district into Campbell County Schools.
"There is a lot of pressure here because of the numbers on the scores of the high school testing," Pelle told The River City News. "I just feel that it is a war on Small Town, USA. Some people are out there doing everything they can to promote 'mega'. Bigger isn't necessarily better. It is discouraging."
She first brought up the idea of reforming the school district as one that offers preschool through 8th grade classes, giving families the chance to choose a high school when she met with parents who were unhappy with the bad test scores. Faced with the pressure from people to either shut down the school, or merge the district into the county, Pelle thought this plan could present a middle-of-the-road option by keeping younger children in a local school closer to home, and avoiding an abandoned, closed building in the middle of the city.
However, she and the board have taken steps in the meantime to fix the problem of failing schools, Pelle said. They hired Dennis Maines as superintendent. The former Holmes High School and Bracken County High School principal started in July, bringing more than 20 years experience in secondary education.
"My job is to inventory everything in the district, the practices, the culture, and to make adjustments, and prioritize things that have to be improved and fixed," Maines told The River City News. "I am an outside set of eyes that can come into the situation and determine what is working and what isn't, where others who have been working here might be too close to see."
Maines sent a letter - "filled with a variety of emotions" - home to parents on October 26.
"We know we have to do more for our students, but also for our parents, community, business community, and city," Maines wrote to parents. "Through many conversations and considerations, we are aware that our scores do not help in attracting families, developers, and others to our city. Those concerns and the achievement of our students are my top priorities."
This week, Maines said he will meet with staff members to formulate his district improvement plan - and a school improvement plan.
"So far, what I have seen is that it is a mixed bag," he explained. "Some things that are in place are good, such as the born-learning program that our family resource center and counselors run. Other things need to be changed. I have already changed the way information goes home to parents. The email system had so many addresses that were out of date that parents weren't getting information. Now they know they need to look for the Wednesday folder, because it has information in it."
"We have plenty of work to do," Maines said. "(Low enrollment) isn't our only problem, although it is not a help. We have a plan to go back to foundations and solid academic work, and our curriculum has to reflect that. We have to align the state standards with expectation and intention and work toward mastery of the subjects. It has to be efficient and effective."
Pelle, who has served on the board for twenty years and is up for reelection on Tuesday, still wants Maines to gather information for the board about the Pre-K through 8th grade option.
"I have faith in Dennis and I told him that," she said. "He is a go-getter. But with the numbers not being in the classrooms, and the test scores not being great, we have enough pressure that I feel we have to have another plan in place."
Maines is confident that he can build the culture and increase the numbers in the high school at least as high as the numbers in the elementary, but he stressed that it takes time.
"I need people to have faith and trust in me to get it done," he stated. "I am confident in my strategies. We can't dwell in the past---we have to prioritize, then master each thing and move on. But it will take time. It is not an easy thing, running a school district, but I am up to the challenge."
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor