By Reggie Ellis
farmersville – When the 2016-17 school year ended, the future of Farmersville’s continuation high school was in question. Deep Creek Academy (DCA) graduated 15 or fewer students for the second year in a row, went an entire year without a principal and with only one full time teacher and canceled the remainder of its thee-year contract with its online education software.
Last October, the Farmersville Unified School District Board heard a presentation on future options for the school which included being absorbed by Farmersville High School, only providing independent study, simply changing its contractor for online software or changing nothing.
Instead of limiting options for students at DCA, the school board decided to find ways to increase continuation high school students’ access to educational programming without removing them from place where they are most comfortable learning. At its June 13 meeting, the school board hired Emily Koop to serve as DCA’s principal. Superintendent Randy DeGraw said Koop was an excellent fit for the position as she taught 13 years in Farmersville Unified before leaving to teach at El Diamante High School in Visalia three years ago. He said in Koop holds an administrative and counseling credential so she brings a lot of versatility to the principal position.
“She’s familiar with Farmersville and the school district,” DeGraw said.
The board also voted to hire a second full-time teacher. Last year, these two positions were held by long-term substitute teachers Abraham Sanchez and Terrance Keller. DeGraw said
The reason for the change in philosophy at DCA was a dramatic change in enrollment. DeGraw said 2015-16 ended with just 20 students enrolled at the school and graduated a record low of 13 students. That was in stark contrast to this past school year when the school year ended with 53 students, about 40 of which will return this fall. There were multiple reasons for the decline in enrollment in 2015-16 and the beginning of 2016-17.
In the past, much of DCA’s enrollment was comprised of adult education, which was restructured in Tulare and Kings Counties following the formation of the Sequoia Adult School Consortium. FUSD is one of 11 districts that contract for adult school services as part of the consortium.
Last year, Farmersville High School began offering credit recovery through APEX Learning during its afterschool program, a program similar to the computer-based AdvancePath Academy offered at DCA. In January, the school board voted to end the district’s contract with AdvancePath Academy, an online credit recovery program which completely changed the school when it was implemented in the 2015-16 school year. The $220,000 annual contract promised a support person would be on campus two days a week, so the district reduced the number of staff members from four teachers and a principal to one full-time and one part-time teacher. By the last fall, AdvancePath had their support person on campus less than once per week. DCA students will use similar software, Apex Learning, at a fraction of the cost at $35,000 per year beginning this fall.
DeGraw said the school board also wanted to increase opportunities for the students as enrollment stabilizes. He said Koop is going to work with FHS to determine if DCA students might be able to take career pathway classes at the high school, such as agriculture, welding or building trades. Last year, DCA students attended a four-hour block in the morning or the afternoon. DeGraw said this allows for flexibility in their schedule that may accommodate those students taking some classes at the high school, but that decision won’t be made until the details are hammered out between DCA, FHS and the district office later this year. DeGraw said the district is also trying to bring back some extra curricular activities to DCA that faded without a principal, such as a sports program where they compete in against other continuation high schools.
“We are looking at opportunities to do additional things for our students,” DeGraw said. “And there are some things we are going back to.”