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JCPS Officials: State’s 'Priority' School Report Doesn’t Tell Full Story

Jefferson County Public Schools officials say there’s more to the report released last week showing a majority of the district’s lowest performing schools have not made adequate progress.

JCPS officials acknowledged at Monday’s board meeting more needs to be done to turn around the status of its lowest performing schools, but they say there have been some gains in student test scores.Last week, the Kentucky Board of Education heard a progress report on the state’s 41 “priority” schools--formerly known as persistently low-achieving. Of that group, which includes three separate cohorts that were announced over the past few years, 18 belong to JCPS.The report shows 16 of those JCPS schools have not made enough progress, with some schools receiving zero points according to the state’s metrics, which give points for indicators under the new Unbridled Learning accountability model including college-and-career readiness and graduation rates.This--along with a quote in the Courier-Journal from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday who calls it “academic genocide”--has many in the education community both upset and questioning how to turn around priority schools that have had both time and money to improve student achievement. At Monday’s meeting, three community members addressed the board saying the issue of low-performing schools is a community-wide problem. Some called for more equity among all schools and better teachers to be placed in the lowest performing schools. JCPS officials say the KDE report fails to show real progress being made in several priority schools and they provided the media and school board with highlights of some successes (see below). The KDE report shows only two JCPS schools--Fern Creek High School in Cohort 1 and Fairdale High School in Cohort 2--made adequate progress. In her presentation, KDE’s Susan Allred said bringing together district leaders to address priority schools was more challenging in JCPS than other school districts, but she said a change in leadership--primarily the hiring of superintendent Donna Hargens in 2011--could have partly attributed. All priority schools were eligible for School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding but that amount varied depending on which cohort the school fell under. Principal Houston Barber’s Fern Creek High is in Cohort 1, which is entering its third and final year of funding and turn around efforts. Barber told the board Monday his school has focused on weekly professional learning communities (PLCs)--which most if not all JCPS have in place--targeted interventions and enrichment. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's not all doom and gloom. It's not all what it says in the paper," Barber says. "We've got excitement happening and we've got success happening." Principal Faith Stroud’s Knight Middle School is in Cohort 2. She says her focus is on building a strong learning environment and focusing on academic performance data. Further, she says Knight Middle School brings students to college campuses like Berea and she invites various speakers to present to students throughout the year. But Stroud says a majority of her teachers have four years or less teaching experience and she relies on weekly PLC meetings to analyze data and use that data to tailor their teacher instruction. “We’re fired up. We’re going to keep going and we’re not going to give up,” she says. Olmsted Academy North is in its first year of implementation of its turn around efforts and principal Bill Perkins says he has also increased PLC time. There are four methods that priority schools can use to turn around achievement. In JCPS, 14 schools have chose the re-staffing model, replacing at least 50 percent of staff and providing social-emotional and community-oriented services for students. Just four schools have implemented a transformation model, using an evaluation system that includes student growth and new strategies to retain effective staff and rewarding staff improving student achievement. Board member Debbie Wesslund says there needs to be a safe way for all staff and teachers to speak up let the board know when they need help. “That’s my big fear, is that somebody out there is accepting something that needs to be fixed,” she says. “I know it takes time, but I don’t want there to be anything we’re not doing.” Board member David Jones Jr. turned his question to Superintendent Hargens, asking her what the response to Commissioner Holliday’s use of “academic genocide” should be. “What is our overall response? Not dueling data, but how are we doing? What do we need to focus on here when someone uses those words to describe what’s going on.” Hargens responded by saying there’s no greater challenge than impacting student lives and “even on a bad day, we’re what students have and we’re going to be the key to their success.” But she said it’s going to take collaboration. JCPS released highlights to media at its board meeting Monday night.

  • All cohort 1 and 2 high schools made gains in college/career readiness rates over the last 3 years, and all but two schools made double-digit gains.
  • Five of our cohort 1 and 2 high schools made gains in their graduation rates over the last three years
  • Five of out 10 cohort 1 and 2 high schools made gains in the percentage of students meeting ACT English benchmarks and six schools made gains in ACT Math benchmarks since the year they were identified.
  • Two priority schools were in the top 10 schools in the state in gains in reading/math proficiency rates and graduation rates from 2010 to 2011.

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