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Harding shift divides EACS board

Members spat loudly over aftermath of school’s closure

– Heated discussion, which has become commonplace in the East Allen County Schools boardroom, erupted again Tuesday night during a presentation from the schools of the Harding attendance area.

The board heard about the feeder area’s school improvement plans, including student goals at East Allen University, a new magnet program in the district that replaced the former Harding High School that the district closed in 2011.

Board member Stephen Terry asked about the effects of closing Harding High School and busing students to one of the district’s four other high schools. He said he requested specific information about the academic performance of those students who were affected by Harding’s closure and expressed dissatisfaction with the information provided more than a month ago.

Board member Rick Allgeier was also skeptical about the reliability of the numbers, which included grade-point average changes, standardized-test pass/fail rates, and attendance and discipline rates for the overall population of students who left Harding to attend other schools.

Other board members said the middle of the presentation was an inappropriate time to have the discussion. Tempers flared as members interrupted one another, and Terry became defensive after board member Bill Hartman said, “It’s time to grow up.”

Terry’s voice rose as he told Hartman it wasn’t about growing up but ensuring these students aren’t getting lost in the shuffle and that the district isn’t “hiding behind numbers.”

“(The numbers) don’t tell you squat,” he said.

The board later agreed to request that the district make a separate, more detailed presentation on those students at a later meeting, likely after three newly elected members join the board.

Diploma awarded

A former student who left Hoagland High School to serve in the Army during the Korean War was awarded an honorary diploma during the board meeting.

“It’s kind of like a dream come true, a lifelong dream come true,” said Russ Rothgeb, now a high school graduate of the district.

When Rothgeb dropped out of high school in 1953, one year shy of graduation, he thought he would pursue a career in the military. But after three years in demolition, it didn’t quite fit, he said.

He said his decision not to finish high school has made him feel disappointed and ashamed. Hoagland High School has since closed.

“In the back of my mind, I felt like a quitter, a dropout,” he said.

He said he thought about pursuing a law degree but quickly found he couldn’t get far without a high school diploma. After some research, he found a way to request a diploma through the state Department of Education, an avenue possible because he’s a veteran.

Now that he has that piece of paper authorized by EACS and the state education department, possibilities have opened up for Rothgeb.

“I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’d like to (pursue a college education),” he said.

sarah.janssen@jg.net

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