School board hears why New Tech numbers falling recently

Members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of School Trustees learned that Viking New Tech has seen dwindling numbers of students enrolled in the past couple of years, and some of those who did enroll had to be cut from the program.

It’s been nearly a decade since the project- and STEM-based “school within a school” began at Huntington North High School in the fall of 2010, when 116 freshmen were enrolled as the first-ever students of Viking New Tech (VNT). HNHS Assistant Principal and VNT Director Rod Richison reported to the board that 50 Viking New Tech students graduated on June 2, 17 of those with honors. However, there are a total of 128 students in the program for the 2019-20 school year, including 35 incoming freshmen.

Richison says one reason for the reduction in numbers is because administrators have developed a new admission process to “weed out” students who don’t fit into the program.

“The core of Viking New Tech is ‘trust, respect and responsibility,’” he said. “They (students) have to behave appropriately, because when you’re working in a group, and you can’t behave, and you continue to get put in ISS (in-school suspension), or removed from school … that hurts everybody else in the group.”

The new application is a more thorough process aimed at making sure students who can work in a group setting and can make public presentations are accepted into the program. Richison said his goal is to build the enrollment up to 280 students.

Richison also reported that New Tech students are required to perform 10 hours of community service per year. The requirement meets the second requirement of the new Indiana Graduation Pathways mandate, which requires all high school students to demonstrate project-, service- and work-based experience in order to graduate. That mandate will be required beginning with the Class of 2023, but Richison says it is already in place at VNT.

“Community service is one place where New Tech really shines,” he said. “They have hundreds of hours each year when you combine all the community service they do. They volunteer at places like Love INC, the Boys & Girls Club, soup kitchen, food pantry; they volunteer at local daycares. And one of the most impressive things they do, is that some students started the Riley Dance Marathon, a fund-raiser for Riley Hospital for Children. To date, they have earned over $10,000 in two years of doing the Riley Dance Marathon.”

The dance marathon was one of the VNT students’ “senior capstone” projects, required of each senior as a culminating academic experience of their schooling. The projects can be research or design-oriented and address a particular issue in the community or a problem of interest to the student.

“By the time New Tech students are seniors … they come out of their shells, they present, they have poise when they stand in front of people, and their presentations are just different than presentations in a regular classroom setting,” Richison added.

In other business, the board unanimously accepted the consent agenda items, which included five teacher resignations. Fresh on the heels of two public forum meetings held on a proposed referendum question posed to voters about whether to increase property taxes to increase teacher salaries, Board President Matt Roth wondered aloud if the teachers who resigned were leaving to find higher-paying positions in other school districts.

“I’m not sure about these employees here, but I do know a couple of other employees from other resignations have gone to other districts for additional money; that is true,” answered Superintendent Chad Daugherty. “I know that one from Lincoln (Elementary) is taking a position to a neighboring district. And another one from Andrews (Elementary), I know, is going to a surrounding district. That is a district that does have an operations referendum.”

Board member Brian Warpup noted that HCCSC invests in training and professional development of teachers, only to see many of them go to other districts after they have been trained at HCCSC expense.

“I hate for them to leave after we have put that investment into them,” he added.

Roth asked for Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Scott Bumgardner to track the reasons teachers are resigning from HCCSC.

In additional action items brought before the board:

• The board unanimously voted 5-0 to accept a memorandum of understanding with Huntington University for the ABLE (Achieving Balance in Life through Education) program. The district will provide a full-time job coach and pay $10,000 per year to support developmentally- and cognitively-disabled students between the ages of 8 and 22 who attend classes at HU.

Board members Tim Allen and Reed Christiansen were absent.

• As part of the consent agenda, the board also approved a three-year extension of the contract for Assistant Superintendent for Business and Classified Staff Scott Bumgardner. The contract also gives Bumgardner use of a  corporate vehicle.

• The board unanimously approved curricular materials fees for the next school year for kindergarten through eighth grade. Daugherty said there is a $20 reduction in fees for K-5, making the total cost $130. Costs for middle school will remain the same at $313.73, with an essential skills fee at $55.

• The board unanimously voted to accept the recommendation of Food2Schools’ of HPS as a vendor to provide group purchasing.

• The board also approved Region 8 recommendations for Aunt Millie’s as a vendor for bread and bakery products and Dean Foods as a vendor of milk and dairy products for the 2019-20 school year.

• A new dish machine for Horace Mann Elementary School was approved unanimously. It is estimated to cost between $65,000 to $75,000, due to costs involving extensive work on the exhaust system and ductwork.