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What's Led to Doss High School's Improvement? For Starters, School Culture.

There's a commotion in the hall of Doss High School in southern Jefferson County. Several students are being called into the office; some seem distraught.

In some ways this feels like a typical high school. But in several ways it's special.

For starters, Doss High is one of Jefferson County Public Schools' 18 "priority" schools. This was a label the state gave Doss after the school consistently performed in the lowest tier of  annual statewide testing. Just last year, 92 percent of Kentucky high schools performed better than Doss.

But that was last year.

In statetest results released Friday,Doss jumped to the 25th percentile. 

The number of students considered college and career ready has more than doubled; the graduation rate exceeds JCPS as a whole.

Related: Takeaways From Jefferson County Public Schools' State Test Results

The state test results for some of Louisville's "priority" schools showed no change. Doss High still has plenty of room of improvement—but it is getting better.

What's changed at the school to make improvement possible?

On Wednesday, Doss High School Principal Ken Moeller agreed to meet with me to discuss just that, and he brought along a teacher and a student.A principal, a teacher and a student talk about improvements at Doss High School.

"Get kids involved some way beyond English, math, science, [and]  social studies," Moeller said.

That's one of three things that Moeller said has helped to turn around Doss High. The other two are refining teachers' skills to educate at a lower-performing school, and focusing on the new norm of college and career readiness.

Whatever is helping Doss creep out of it's lower performing status, there are interesting things to note.

For example, Doss' graduation rate is 86.2 percent, higher than JCPS' 79 percent. Bucking the statewide trend, Doss' graduation rate for its African American students is 91.3 percent. It's graduation rate for white students is 79.1 percent.

Doss senior Elizabeth Pena said the test scores and school rankings that worry the adults around her haven't really been on her radar.

What she notices—and what you'll hear about often—is the way a school feels: school culture.

"There has been a distinct change, definitely in behavior," she said. "Classes that come after me, I've seen them have more school spirit. I've seen them participate more in homecoming week."

Pena, who has been at Doss High since she was a freshman, said it's not just extracurricular activities (although for some students that can be a draw, which is why Moeller has tried to create more opportunities for students). But Pena also said there's enough help from teachers—should students seek it.

"You really have the opportunity to be a big fish in a little pond," said Pena.

Biology teacher Aaron Wisman has been at the school the same amount of time as Pena. They teacher and the student have witnessed the change from different perspectives.

Still, they have similar conclusions.

"The change is about school culture," Wisman said. "It's about relationships between teachers and students. It's about relationships between students.

"When I first walked into this place you could feel it in the air. When I walk in now it feels totally different. Kids want to be here."

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