FRANKFORT – State legislators got an initial look Monday at how some of Kentucky’s persistently low achieving schools are improving the education provided to students.
There are 39 of the schools in Kentucky, referred to in education circles as priority schools, said Kelly Foster, the associate commissioner for the Office of Next Generation Schools and Districts in the Kentucky Department of Education. She testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Education.
While the education department’s annual priority schools report will not be completed until after school report cards come out in late September, Foster said 21 of the 30 high schools considered priority schools are expected to achieve their College Career Ready Delivery Targets. The goal of the targets is to increase the percentage of high school students prepared for college or careers.
Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, said the only high school identified as a priority school in his district has been working hard to improve.
“I’m lucky to be part of what they have done out there,” he said. “We developed a thing called the Principal’s Cabinet. Basically it’s an engagement of students, parents and community leaders – folks of faith and business people. We normally meet once a month and discuss the issues going on.”
Donohue said it empowers the teachers and students.
“It gives them ownership of the school,” he said. “I would encourage my counterparts, that if you have an opportunity to do something like that, you should do it. We have really done well out there.”
To help priority schools improve, the state conducts what’s called diagnostic reviews of the institutions every other year. Foster said 19 of the reviews were conducted in the spring. She said 13 of the 19 reviewed schools or districts were making progress toward meeting improvement goals they have been asked to hit.
Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said he was alarmed six of the 19 were not making progress.
“I’m curious to know if there is anything common among those six that points to consistent organizational ineffectiveness?” he said.
Foster said it came down to one thing: leadership.
“You can tell the schools that are making the largest gains, and are moving the fastest, have very strong leaders at the district level and at the principal position,” she said. “Having that leader with capacity in place makes a huge difference.”
Foster said the districts have the authority to change leaders.
“Those districts are on the hot seat,” she said. “They feel the pressure. The principals feel the pressure. I’ve had many principals break down and cry when they saw the results. The pressure to move that school is right on top of them.”
Givens said as uncomfortable as it can be, removing ineffective school leaders is the right thing to do.
“The children’s futures are at risk,” he said, “so thank you for doing that.”
Rep. Derrick Graham, co-chairman of the committee, said innovation to turn around a school can’t happen without strong leadership.
“It is very important that that leadership is there and in place and will to put forth those innovative methods that are need to help to improve,” said Graham, D-Frankfort. “For us as a commonwealth we can’t afford to let any of these kids slip through the cracks. We have to be prepared to educate all kids – whether they are from Eastern Kentucky or an urban area. If they succeed Kentucky succeeds.”