Back-to-School: One-on-one with PHM’s Dr. Jerry Thacker

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 12:21 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Penn-Harris-Madison students return to class on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

With over 11,000 students, PHM is one of the largest districts in the Michiana area, serving as a powerhouse in athletics and academics. But it wasn’t always that way.

When Dr. Jerry Thacker started as superintendent in 2006, the graduation rate was only 79 percent. Now, it’s 97 percent.

“We have some of the highest performing students in the state and in the country,” said Thacker. “We have amazing teachers and parents.”

Like most school districts in the country, staffing is a concern. However, PHM is fully staffed for every classroom, with only three openings in special education. Dr. Thacker credits their recruitment efforts.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “We’ve been very actively recruiting all the time. And we have such a great reputation. Teachers want to come here. And of course, we have one of the highest starting salaries in the area. So, those things help.”

An attractive feature for hiring new teachers? PHM’s class sizes are lower than they were five years ago, with totals averaging in the twenties.

There’s also a strategy to PHM’s hiring. The district had 55 people resign or retire last year, but they’ve hired over 60 people—many of whom will help support students who fell behind in the pandemic.

“What we’ve done is hire additional interventionists-instructional support for students who could use additional support,” said Dr. Thacker. “We had a pandemic. So, we had students who were lagging behind the expectations we have for our students here as we prepare them for college and career success, so we made sure we hired additional personnel so that we could have a quicker impact so we accelerate the learning.”

The pandemic took a toll academically, but also emotionally. PHM added counselors to each middle school and high school in the past two years. Dr. Thacker says activities also help keep students emotionally engaged.

“Having kids in school connected to that environment, participating in club activities after school during school extracurricular activities,” said Dr. Thacker. “We have all these sports programs, intramural programs. When the student gets involved, they get connected to amazing coaches, adults. Robotics mentors and teachers’ success of our students.”

Several security upgrades have taken place at every PHM and that includes security personnel, staff training and three-layer protection at entrances. These efforts were recognized by Security Magazine, as PHM was recently named sixth in the nation for their security protocols.

Dr. Thacker is looking forward to the 2022-2023 school year. It’s something he eagerly anticipates.

“It’s so much fun,” said Dr. Thacker. “My favorite part of the entire year is the opening of school. I love it when the students come back, the teachers come back. I love their energy and enthusiasm, their passion, their thirst for learning and seeing all of these parents and community members get involved in our schools.”

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