KNIGHTSVILLE -- Clay Community Schools Superintendent Thomas Rohr spoke to Clay County Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday during its lunch meeting at the Come 'n' Get It Diner about his move to Greater Clarke County in July.
He will become superintendent of Greater Clarke County Schools, located just outside of Louisville, Ky. With 10,000 students, a little more than twice the size of Clay County, Greater Clarke County is a financially strong and growing school corporation.
"I'm sure it will be a good move for us (his family) and I'm looking forward to a new set of challenges. I'd like to speak about the past, present and future of Clay Community Schools, " he said.
Rohr painted a bleak picture of the past.
"The school corporation was in terrible shape, almost to the point of being under state control. We had very poor relations with the teacher's association with contract negotiations. The junior high was at the old Van Buren High School, which was a fire hazard and in overall bad condition. The school corporation offered no adult ed or GED program. There were no written policies and each school had its own curriculum, so textbooks and materials weren't the same. We had no technology to speak of, we had only a handful of Commodore computers. And, perhaps the most disconcerting problem to the public, was that Clay Community Schools did not have a very good statewide reputation, mainly because of the problems getting Northview (High School) built and other difficult situations," he said.
Seeing Mayor Kenny Crabb and David Wise, former school board trustee, among the Chamber audience, Rohr recalled meeting the two men 13 years ago.
"Mayor Crabb was one of the first people I met in Clay County and he may not know it, but he intrigued me to come here. He spoke very highly of Clay Community Schools even though there were many problems faced by the school corporation. He focused on the bright side of positive community support. I met David Wise at an ISBA (Indiana School Board Association) meeting and he encouraged me to apply," Rohr said.
As far as the present is concerned, he said he works with a strong base of good people. A change in board membership brought about positive attitude changes and fostered an excellent working relationship between teachers, the school corporation and other community entities.
He noted teachers have never started the school year without a contract. The school corporation has maintained a positive financial situation, even though it has turned in the last couple of years due to interest rates being down and bringing in less revenue, less state funding and a change in board priorities with increased expenditures, but is something that can be resolved.
"Building the new middle school that is a model for other school corporations, even with 13 lawsuits and remonstrances, actually lowered the tax rate. Technology has improved and the school corporation now has over 1,500 computers to a ratio of about 4,500 students. Academic performance improves each year and, given the demographics in Clay County, students do better than what is expected. New classes have been added which will increase the opportunities available to students. The graduation rate has increased from less than 70 percent in the mid-1980s to over 90 percent. With the CAPE grant (Community Alliances Promoting Education), we've built the alternative school and will soon start the new preschool program," Rohr said.
The transportation (bus) fleet is considered the top in Indiana, the lunch program has had only one increase in 15 years and the lunch program and school libraries are computerized.
"It's safe to say our school corporation has a better perception across the state. Maybe it's gone down a little bit because of recent events, but it's still better than what it was," Rohr said.
His predictions for the future include more facility improvements, academic improvements, wireless networks, laptop computers, textbooks on disk, on-line classes and desktop video and recording. He said challenges to overcome will be continuing academic improvements, financial, board relations and establishing community priorities.