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Gear Up comes to McCreary

By: Greg Bird

The McCreary County Board of Education, meeting in special session last week at McCreary Central High School, voted to approve an agreement between the school district and Berea College that will provide support for students throughout their middle and high school career.

Through a seven year grant from the U.S. Department of Education Berea College and the McCreary County School District will join together for the Gear Up initiative. Gear Up, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

The program will select 100 incoming McCreary County Middle School 7th graders, providing additional instructional resources through their middle and high school years and into their first year after graduation.

The goals of Gear Up are to increase academic performance, college readiness, graduation rates and to build a “college-going culture” within the community.

The students will receive in-school tutoring, direct mentoring, test preparation assistance, as well as activities such as college visits, career exploration and parent activities.

The students enrolled in the Gear Up program will be assigned an Academic Specialist to work with the students, following the group from year to year.

“It is wonderful to have Gear Up back in McCreary County,” Superintendent Donnie Wright stated.

The Board created a Gear Up Academic Specialist position to head the local efforts, but there were some questions as to the cost.

Gear Up will reimburse the District up to $60,000 for the position for the 7-years the program runs, but the District will be responsible for any salary over that amount.

Board member Brandon Kidd asked if the District would be responsible for the employee after the end of the grant.

Finance Officer Christy Sizemore informed Kidd that the teacher would have tenure by that time, but if the grant was not to be renewed, that teacher would have to be transferred into the classroom for what ever subjects they were certified for.

This project is paid for by Federal GEAR UP funds. Berea College has been awarded a seven year GEAR UP grant from the U.S. Department of Education (2014- 2021) totaling $77,190,400. The college, along with Partners for Education will collaborate with 14 school districts in Kentucky, providing services to nearly 7,000 students throughout the course of the grant.

Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education, said she was excited to collaborate with the 14 school districts. “We are happy to do this work in these new counties and in these new schools,” she said. “I was once a student from the region, so I am just like these Appalachian youth, and we want to see all Appalachian youth succeed in school.”

In other Board actions Thursday night, the Board approved the Letter of Engagement between Attorney Jeff Hoover and the Board. Both Roxanne Shook and Larry Davis voted against the approval, with Shook noting the previous attorney charged a flat rate of $160 for her work, while Hoover will charge $150 per hour.

Kidd responded that previous Board Attorneys also charged an hourly rate.

“I’m a firm believer in you get what you pay for,” he said.

Approval was granted for the District to purchase three new busses. The total cost will be about $266,000, financed over 10 years. The busses, one for pre-school, one handicapped accessible and one 72-seat bus will replace aging busses in the fleet, which are costly to maintain.

Sizemore stated the district hopes to spread out new bus purchases over several years to ease the burden on finances.

The next meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education will be on November 18 at 6:00 p.m. in the Central Office.

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