Education

Two newly-formed school districts in Clark County, Ind., have kicked off their first semesters after separating from each other earlier this year.

The Silver Creek and Borden-Henryville school corporations were formed this summer after voters overwhelmingly approved the dissolution of the former West Clark Community Schools.

Doug Coffman, who served on the West Clark school board for about 30 years, and is now president of Silver Creek’s board, said the separation was necessary after years of disagreements between the rural communities of Borden and Henryville and the suburban community of Sellersburg, the town where Silver Creek is located.

“We should get along, but we didn’t get along for some reason,” Coffman said. “Borden’s a great community, Henryville’s a great community, and Sellersburg’s a great community. But we all had different DNA. It was time to move on, and I think people were ready for it.”

WHAT LED TO THE SPLIT

Over the years, Coffman said communities within the district struggled to see eye-to-eye on how funds should be spent.

The matter came to a head in 2017, when the district sought $95 million for school improvement projects. Much of that money was to be used for Silver Creek campuses. But voters in Borden and Henryville rejected the referendum.

Coffman then moved to separate the school district. Board members voted 5-0 in favor, sending the issue to the public. At June’s Indiana primary, nearly 75% of voters supported the divorce.

“I think everybody was on the same page, but kind of afraid to say it,” he said. “The board supported it and has been in support through that whole process. I think it’s a divorce that all three communities are glad it happened. Like a marriage, it’s painful. We’ve put together resources and started dividing assets, and that’s kind of where we’re at this point.”

DIVIDING UP THE DISTRICT

Clemen Perez-Lloyd was the superintendent of West Clark at the time of the split, and is now in the same position at Silver Creek. She said it’s important to not get hung up on reasons for the split.

“Now, everyone has the opportunity to grab a white canvas and start new and chart where they want to go how they see fit; [what] is best for kids, and how they can build their new vision and mission and make the necessary changes to achieve their goals,” she said. “It’s all positive because it gives you the opportunity to build.”

No employees lost their jobs as a result of the split. Teachers were immediately rehired to work at one of the two districts.

Administrative staff in the central office were split up based on where they wanted to work. New interim school boards were appointed to represent each district, with two of the original the five members of the West Clark board going to Silver Creek and three going to Borden-Henryville.

To lead Borden-Henryville, career educator Sam Gardner was brought on board as interim superintendent.

“During the course of this year, the new school district itself will have to put together a lot of plans and personnel,” Gardner said. “The whole organization is being put together right now. It’s been a really interesting situation.”

The two districts are still sharing a few resources, including cafeteria and IT services. All special education students are still attending the same building in Borden, as well.

But one of the shared services has led to issues for both districts. They are still having problems securing Chromebooks for one-to-one programs.

Perez-Lloyd said the computers were ordered by the IT team before the district separated. Officials hoped to have them distributed in time for the first day of school.

“But our providers keep pushing the ETA,” Perez-Lloyd said. “Now this time, it looks like it’s going to be the end of August, maybe the first week in September. Literally before the split, we were already trying to get these devices.”

School officials at both districts are worried the delays could impact the learning process if schools are forced to go virtual due to coronavirus. Both districts have reported COVID-19 cases since opening last week. One case was found at Henryville, and two cases at Silver Creek High School have led to 95 students being quarantined.

Silver Creek’s campus is composed of four buildings for its 2,800 primary, elementary, middle and high school students. Around 21% of the entire student body is virtual. Borden and Henryville each have one building that houses kindergarten through 12th grade, with about 3,000 students combined. Around 250 families in the entire district, or 13%, have chosen virtual learning

Gardner said he worries about a scenario in which a building must close before the Chromebooks are distributed.

“If we had to close the building fairly quickly, we could do eLearning with the children,” Gardner said. “And the disappointment about that would be we don’t have the Chromebooks here. So the students that participate in that would be the ones that have access to the technology.”

Aside from the immediate concerns of COVID-19, the districts each have broader visions that they hope to make progress on once the pandemic calms. Coffman said conversations regarding improvements at Silver Creek’s campus will restart, and Gardner will look to build Borden-Henryville’s physical administrative presence from the ground up, since he and his team are currently working in an old church building adjacent to the school.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.