Commonwealth Journal

October 4, 2012

Excelling at SWHS and PCHS

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

It pays to excel in school. Literally.
That’s what hundreds of students in the Pulaski County School System learned this week, as they earned a total of almost $30,000 in cash for doing well on Advanced Placement (AP) tests. 
The county school district has put an emphasis on AP courses in its schools — specifically, Southwestern High School and Pulaski County High School — after partnering with the AdvanceKentucky program, which encourages students to take more challenging classes by providing financial incentives.
On Wednesday, $20,200 in incentive money was awarded to Southwestern High School, to be distributed to the students — 120 in all who received scores of 3, 4, or 5 on their exams taken for AP courses. The school broke its records for AP enrollment, with 754 students taking part, 517 testing, and 202 passing. 
Each student received about $100 for their qualifying score on a test.
“SWHS students were excited to receive their checks today for their efforts, but these students  know the rewards for pursuing academic excellence go much deeper than a check,” said Southwestern Principal Danita Ellis. “As their principal, I am so proud of these students for their dedication and commitment for academic excellence, every time we raise the bar the go higher and higher.”
Nineteen students received the AP Scholar honor, granted to a student who received qualifying scores on three or more exams.
The AP courses are more difficult, intensive versions of familiar high school subjects, designed to more closely approximate what students will face when they reach the college level. Taking a test related to the course and getting a qualifying score can pay off at the next level in the form of collegiate hours.
Today, Pulaski County will receive its money, a total of $9,400 for its AP students. The numbers are smaller due to a lower overall student population, but PCHS saw a 30 percent pass rate in 2011 increase to 36 percent in 2012, with 94 students passing overall.
Enrollment in AP courses is up by around 80 students at each school, setting records at both.
Angela Murphy, Secondary Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for the county school district, said that after Pulaski County decided to join the AdvanceKentucky program along with a number of other schools a couple of years ago, they also decided to raise the bar. AdvanceKentucky funds three content areas: math, science and English.
“Our district decided we would fund Social Studies, Psychology, Foreign Language, and Music also,” said Murphy. “So part of the money came from AdvanceKentucky and part from the district.”
As such, Pulaski County Schools chipped in $9,300 to SWHS and $2,900 to PCHS for those students who scored high on the extra subjects, showing a clear investment in their students future on the school system’s part.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the students and the teachers who have helped them get (to this point),” said Superintendent Steve Butcher, who noted that he was at SWHS to personally help hand out 72 checks. “The students have worked hard ... and earned the money to help pay for college.”
Indeed, Murphy said that many of the students she talked to on Wednesday said they would put a portion of their money in savings for the next level of education.
“They do it see (the money) as an incentive to perform (in school), but this is just a small incentive,” said Murphy, noting the advantage gained by colleges accepting AP tests in lieu of basic freshman year courses.
“They’ll waive general education courses; many of our students go in to college as sophomores,” said Murphy. “(At the University of Kentucky), waiving two semesters of tuition, that’s $14,000.
“The other part is that the curriculum has to be approved be a college board; it’s very rigorous and college-like,” she added. “So the rigor prepares students for their college courses. The money’s a part of it, but if you think of the savings in tuition and then the preparation for college, it’s tri-fold in advantages for students.”
The numbers are growing. AP enrollment next year for SWHS is 755, and 514 at PCHS. The school system itself doesn’t necessarily gain any advantage since AP exams do not count for state accountability, but AdvanceKentucky does track successful districts and the college boards do too. That said, honors for the school district aren’t the primary focus for local educators — it’s what is done for the students themselves.
“The biggest gain is that for the students who want to go to college, we are preparing them to be successful,” said Murphy. “A student that can take an AP assessment and make a qualifying score is ready for a college classroom. I would loved to have had this opportunity (when I was in school), and I’m thrilled that my children have it.”