Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

July 24, 2011

Dr. Ralston leaves legacy of growth

GLASGOW — Dr. Jerry Ralston won’t be around when the school year begins in August for Barren County Schools.

Not only will he be absent from the school district where he was superintendent for the last 11 years, he won’t even be in the continental United States. He and his wife Marcella will be on an Alaskan cruise, he said.

Retiring after more than a decade of service to the local school district, Ralston leaves a legacy of growth – in facilities and in the number of students attending Barren County schools.

When he took over the district as superintendent in 2000, a “progressive and innovative” building program had already been initiated by his predecessor, Charlie Campbell.

“Everything we thought about Barren County and the school district has come true,” Ralston said. “They had started a building program and I had a lot of experience with construction of new buildings in Webster County (where he was superintendent for 10 years before coming to Barren County).

That experience he believes is what helped him receive the superintendent’s position in Barren County, Ralston said.

“I think the board was very sensitive to the fact that I had 10 years of experience. We had a lot of construction that had taken place in Webster County. I was very familiar with what you had to do to continue that process. That and perhaps a few other things sold them on the idea that I needed to be their next leader,” he said.

When Ralston arrived, Campbell had already overseen the construction of Red Cross and Hiseville elementaries, construction of a new cafeteria at Park City and renovations at Austin Tracy Elementary. But that was just the beginning of a series of construction projects that would become unprecedented in the district’s history.

Barren County High School was being renovated for the first time when Ralston became superintendent. Soon after came school construction projects at Temple Hill and Park City elementaries, renovations to Barren County Middle School and a new roof for Austin Tracy. The area technology center on the high school campus was also completely renovated.

After those projects was construction at Eastern Elementary and then district leaders had a novel concept of how to deal with accommodating the extra number of students at the high school.

“The idea for the Trojan Academy started with four classrooms,” Ralston said. “We said, ‘Let’s stick four classrooms between the two buildings,’ but we had a problem because we had the bus garage there.”

The district solved the problem by purchasing 90 acres on Ky. 90 and relocating the bus garage to that property, which cleared the way for the development and construction of Trojan Academy.

The next step in the district’s plan was to construct a seventh elementary in the city limits of Glasgow. Thirty-five acres on the north side of the city were purchased and North Jackson Elementary was completed in 2009.

The district’s latest construction projects have included six additional classrooms at North Jackson and renovations at the high school.

All told, the district has spent approximately $62 million for construction projects during Ralston’s tenure, according to John Stith, the district’s finance director.

That amount of expenditure for building projects has been made possible because Barren County was recognized by the state in the 1990s as a growth district and has been allowed to levy two additional equalized growth nickels for construction projects on top of regular funding from the capital outlay and building funds. This has given the district the extra bonding capacity for ongoing construction.

“In Barren County, because we are a growth district, we continue to construct new buildings each and every year. I think that’s a real source of pride for our community, our parents, our students and ourselves and provides the best physical environment that you could have for our students,” Ralston said. “It’s hard to keep up as much building as we’ve had in the last 11 years. It’s been truly remarkable. I believe that we have, for a district of our size, facilities comparable to anyone in the commonwealth.”

Barren County is considered to be a growth district because of increasing numbers in student population. Enrollment numbers have grown by more than 800 students since Ralston became superintendent.

According to enrollment numbers provided by the district, Barren County had a student population of 3,839 during the 2000-01 school year. By the 2010-11 school year, that number had increased to 4,666 students. Ralston said he believes that trend will continue.

“Our growth has just continued to increase year after year after year,” he said. “Anytime you grow you add more funding.”

In the area of academics and student achievement, the district has had some successes during Ralston’s tenure, but still struggles to bring all students to higher levels of proficiency.

When Ralston arrived in 2000,“the elementary schools were doing fairly well. Barren County High School was struggling,” he said. “That became a focus. I believe when Keith Hale became (BCHS) principal things really started to change.”

The district began to put more focus on instruction and what needed to be done in the classroom at all grade levels to improve. All-day kindergarten and all-day preschool programs were initiated under Ralston. Principals were tasked with the goal of getting every student to read at grade level.

“I’ve always said if you want to know how effective an elementary school is, go to the principal and say, ‘What percentage of your students are reading on grade level?’ Now, if they can’t answer that then that would raise red flags for me,” Ralston said.

At the high school, a college magnet program, more Advanced Placement and dual credit classes were put in place. BAVEL (Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning), an alternative path to graduation, was begun and now has students form 16 different districts.

“I believe our district is a district that truly meets the needs of our students and I say that because every student is not designed to sit in a traditional classroom,” Ralston said. “I think the bottom line is we’re successful and we’re growing because we’ve been able to meet the needs of all of our students.”

But according to district report cards from the Kentucky Department of Education, Barren County has had ongoing deficiencies in goals to meet achievement standard needs of some of their student subpopulations during Ralston’s tenure.

The district has failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in both reading and math during five years of the last decade and failed to make AYP in one or other of the subjects in during an additional two years.

The district’s federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) status since the 2004-05 school year had been District Improvement, Years 1 and 2, where the district had not made AYP for two and then three years. Since the 2006-07 school year, the district has been in Corrective Action, Years 1 through 4.

Ralston acknowledged there continue to be problems in reaching achievement goals for some students.

“We have made every effort, tried to utilize every strategy. Sometimes it’s just very, very, very difficult because of the handicapping conditions to reach proficiency for those students each and every year. Look at what the data from across the state suggests. We’re not the only ones that are struggling with meeting that proficiency requirement, but we are making the effort and doing everything that we can, but that standard keeps going up. It’s going to be an effort and a struggle each year to reach those goals for those students,” he said.  

Asked if he would have done anything differently during his years at Barren County looking back now, Ralston said he wasn’t sure he would change much of anything.

“I think sometimes people have looked at me and evaluated me in the wrong way and that’s partly my fault. Because of my personality, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world and sometimes I appear to be not the most friendliest person in the world and that’s not the case. If I could do any one thing over again, … I would try to be more relaxed and inviting. I think I’m much more that type of person now than when I first came here and I looked much too formal and I would try to change that image somewhat. As far as what we’ve done in the classroom, what we’ve done with our facilities, what we’ve done with our enrollment and growth and everything else, I’m not sure I would change anything. I think we went in the right direction,” he said.

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