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Thomas Nelson tears down walls by working online

Shelby Clark, Loren Schuler, Grant Ross, Jason Fletcher, Sierra Boone and Drew Hurst, all students in the leadership dynamics class at Thomas Nelson High School (Nelson County), collaborate on marketing ideas for their Lead to Feed project. Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 8, 2015

Shelby Clark, Loren Schuler, Grant Ross, Jason Fletcher, Sierra Boone and Drew Hurst, all students in the leadership dynamics class at Thomas Nelson High School (Nelson County), collaborate on marketing ideas for their Lead to Feed project.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 8, 2015

By Mike Marsee
michael.marsee@education.ky.gov

They haven’t thrown out all of the paper at Thomas Nelson High School, but they have gotten rid of a great deal of it. And at the same time, they’ve torn down walls between students and teachers.

School leaders at the Nelson County school say faster, easier communication is the most important result of their move toward becoming a paperless school, with everything from lessons to newsletters going online.

“Anywhere where ‘walls’ have traditionally been, they’re gone. Creating, collaborating and sharing via Google Drive and Blogger allows for everyone to see across the school,” said assistant principal Heather Warrell.

The move also has strengthened the school’s connection with the community by creating increased transparency that Warrell said has been good for all concerned.

While the change has saved money in terms of paper purchases, school leaders say that wasn’t what motivated them.

“It’s really just the hook. People can connect to the idea of a paperless school, but what this can do in terms of collaboration and transparency and the notion of ‘work smarter, not harder,’ has revolutionized the way we run this school,” Warrell said. “So yes, it does contribute to opportunities that are paperless, but that’s really not Continue Reading

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Schools mark milestone in dropout prevention as the work continues

Commissioner Terry Holliday, Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear celebrate all 173 Kentucky school districts raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 during a press conference at the Capitol. Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 29, 2015

Commissioner Terry Holliday, Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear celebrate all 173 Kentucky school districts raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 during a press conference at the Capitol.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 29, 2015

By Mike Marsee
michael.marsee@education.ky.gov

Kentucky schools can celebrate a major victory in their battle to keep students from leaving school early, but only for a little while. Then it will be time to get right back to work.

A milestone has been reached with the adoption by every local school board of a policy that raises the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18, which has been a priority for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and a focus of Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear.

The last of the 173 boards of education to adopt that policy did so last month, and Gov. Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear and Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday marked that event with a celebratory press conference last week.

“A higher mandatory attendance age was one of my legislative priorities and has been ever since I took office 7 1/2 years ago,” Beshear said. “We want every student to come out of school prepared to succeed at whatever’s next in his or her life.”

The Beshears and Holliday thanked local boards of education at the press conference for their efforts to raise the compulsory school attendance age in just over 18 months, but the governor and first lady also made it clear there is much more to be done.

“Raising our expectations shows that we care about our students’ futures, which I believe gives them a reason to succeed,” said Jane Beshear, whose husband called her the “chief lobbyist” for this initiative. “We’re looking to school districts, teachers and administrators to get creative to find ways to engage our at-risk students, to get them back into the fold.” Continue Reading

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Building learning in Minecraft

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.Kelly@education.ky.gov

Fifth-grader Olivia Staples is building a castle, not just any castle – a floating castle.

Sitting at a computer in the Longbranch Elementary School library, she follows instructions written by a classmate to create the structure in the pixelated world of Minecraft.  If the essay is detailed enough – the castle will hover over the video game world, if it falls flat, Olivia’s partner will have to revise the essay until the directions match the intended outcome.

“It’s a really great lesson for them to see where their writing lacks, what worked and didn’t work,” said Stacie Kegley, library media specialist at the Boone County school.  “It allows partnership and collaboration and of course, I’m totally teasing them with the Minecraft game to get them excited about writing.”

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New policy seeks to boost dual credit program

Class monitor Kelli Cash helps senior Laney Coplen with her computer science dual credit class, offered through Murray State University, at Mayfield/Graves County ATC. Coplen expects to graduate high school with 12 college credits due to being able to take dual credit classes. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

Class monitor Kelli Cash helps senior Laney Coplen with her computer science dual credit class, offered through Murray State University, at Mayfield/Graves County ATC. Coplen expects to graduate high school with 12 college credits because of dual credit classes.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.kelly@education.ky.gov

They may look like high school students, but many of the students at Mayfield-Graves Area Technology Center are already in college. They have college transcripts, ID cards and credit hours.

The students are enrolled in dual credit courses, classes for which they will earn both high school and college credit through West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

“What we stress to them is, when we enroll you in this, even though you are taking the class here, you are now a college student,” said Mike Miller, principal of Mayfield-Graves ATC. “We do have good success with the students who sign up; very seldom do we have a kid who does not perform well.”

The school, which serves students from Mayfield, Graves County and Carlisle County high schools, offers dual credit in five subjects. Students pay $50 a semester for up to two of the college-credit classes.

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Superintendent of the Year acts as both leader, teacher

Third-grade students Brooke King and Aniyah Brooks Richardson tell Simpson County Schools Superintendent James Flynn about the Mexican jumping bean activity they did while studying life cycles in April Marlin's call at Simpson Elementary School. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 4, 2014

Third-graders Brooke King and Aniyah Brooks Richardson tell Simpson County Schools Superintendent James Flynn about the Mexican jumping bean activity they did while studying life cycles in April Marlin’s class at Simpson Elementary School.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 4, 2014

By Mike Marsee
michael.marsee@education.ky.gov

Teaching might have been in James Flynn’s blood, but it wasn’t in his heart. At least not at first.

Flynn wanted to become a scientist before his career path changed unexpectedly while he was working on a master’s degree in biology.

“One semester at grad school I taught a freshman-level biology lab class, and I absolutely loved it,” Flynn said. “I recognized that I had a passion for teaching.”

That passion has led to a career of more than 25 years as an educator, and Flynn has spent the past 12 years as superintendent of the Simpson County school district. He was recently recognized by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators as its 2015 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year.

“I don’t regret the decision to go into education. I’ve loved it, and I still do,” he said.

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Make your voice heard by taking the KCAS Challenge

Rhonda Orttenburger helps 5th-grade student Cedric Reinhardt fill out a bracket to narrow down his favorite song during class at Kit Carson Elementary School (Madison County). After choosing a favorite song, the students were then writing an opinion piece on it. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 9, 2014

Rhonda Orttenburger helps 5th-grader Cedric Reinhardt fill out a bracket to narrow down his favorite song at Kit Carson Elementary School (Madison County). After choosing a favorite, the students were writing an opinion piece on it.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 9, 2014

By Mike Marsee
michael.marsee@education.ky.gov

Like many teachers, Rhonda Orttenburger gets too many emails. But one email from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) practically jumped out of her inbox.

The email invited Orttenburger, a 5th-grade language arts teacher at Kit Carson Elementary School in Madison County, to participate in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS) Challenge, which offers teachers and others the opportunity to provide feedback on the English/language arts and mathematics standards. Similar emails went to every other teacher in the state.

Orttenburger welcomed the chance to weigh in on the standards and to help make sure teachers’ voices are heard.

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Milken award winner: ‘I feel lucky every morning’

Allyson Vitato, principal at Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School (Jefferson County), is surprised when her name is called as the winner of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award during an assembly at her school. Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 15,2015

Allyson Vitato reacts as her name is called as the winner of the Milken Educator Award during an assembly at Breckinridge-Franklin elementary.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 15, 2015

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.kelly@education.ky.gov

Allyson Vitato thought she was bringing her school together to hear from state education officials about the rise in student achievement at Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary.

She planned a schoolwide assembly, bought fruit, doughnuts and punch for a reception and, just moments before Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday arrived, sang along with 5th-graders practicing a song for the event.

But as she sat in front of her 425 students at the Jefferson County school, it became clear that she had been duped. The assembly, Holliday told the students, was like a surprise birthday party.

The surprise, they soon learned, was that Vitato had won the Milken Educator Award and the $25,000 that goes along with it.

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Newest Hub school showcasing turnaround tactics

Teachers at East Carter High School (Carter County) are to post student proficient work, learning targets and class mission statements in their rooms. Geometry teacher Amanda McCall, pictured with sophomores Kristen Mayo, Chaseton Tussey and Joscelyn Wilcox, in front of her student work wall. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 12, 2014

Teachers at East Carter High School (Carter County) post proficient student work, learning targets and class mission statements in their rooms. Geometry teacher Amanda McCall, pictured with sophomores Kristen Mayo, Chaseton Tussey and Joscelyn Wilcox, in front of her student work wall.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 12, 2014

By Mike Marsee
michael.marsee@education.ky.gov

The welcome mat is out at East Carter High School.

Teachers and administrators are happy to showcase some of the practices that helped them turn around their test scores, and they’re getting ample opportunity to do that as a Hub school.

The Carter County school was added last fall to the list of Hub schools, which are Priority schools that substantially improve on college/career readiness (CCR) measures. Hub schools are asked to capture and share their best practices, backed by data and results, and share them with other schools in their region, especially Focus schools (which are identified by how students in Gap groups are performing and/or their graduation rates).

“We’ve got systems in place in the classrooms and outside of the classrooms, plus meeting facilities,” principal Larry Kiser said. “We’re geared for other Priority schools or other schools that are looking to improve their test scores.”

That’s exactly where East Carter was not long ago. In 2010, the school was named a persistently low achieving school (now called Priority schools) based on test scores that were in the bottom 5 percent of the state. For the last two years, it has ranked in the 94th percentile with a Distinguished/High Performing rating.

The school also has a 93.8 percent college/career readiness rate and a 98.6 percent graduation rate, and it no longer has the Priority school designation.

“It’s been a pretty joyous ride. It’s been hard work, but the rewards have been pretty outstanding,” Kiser said.

Coletta Parsley, an educational recovery leader at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) who works with East Carter, said aligning the school’s systems to focus on college/career readiness has been the biggest factor in its transformation.

“In making this shift, East Carter became a school focused not only on effective teaching but on ensuring that all students learn,” Parsley said. “The journey from Priority school to Hub school required numerous changes, including a restructuring of the school schedule, to ensure that the learning needs of all students were met. Therefore, East Carter became a data-driven school as multiple sources of data were analyzed, and the results were used to guide improvement efforts.”

Now other schools are coming to Kiser and his staff to ask how they can reap similar rewards. Visits started in November, less than a month after the announcement that East Carter had joined Franklin-Simpson and Pulaski County high schools on the short list of Hub schools.

During the 2013-14 school year, 625 representatives of 89 schools and districts visited the first two Hub schools, including teams from East Carter. Now Kiser said his school has a plan for those who call on him.

“Once schools call or e-mail us with an interest in planning a visit, we have a check sheet we send out to them that explains the process. They complete it and send it back so we know exactly what their priorities are that they want to look at,” he said.

Parsley said visitors typically observe instruction, attend Professional Learning Committee meetings within departments and meet with teachers to ask questions and share ideas.

“This provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other,” she said.

Parsley said visitors are asked to provide feedback to help the school better plan for future visits, and they are sent an e-mail packet containing protocols and procedures relating to East Carter’s best practices so their schools can adapt those systems to their own needs.

Some of the first visitors came from Montgomery County High School, where assistant principal Robert Donaldson, the team leader for that visit, said they were looking for a school similar to their own.

“We tried to go with a top-10 school, and we also wanted to go with a school more comparable to us with regard to demographics and culture,” Donaldson said.

Kiser said one area of high interest for prospective visitors is the student data notebooks that let students break down every test they take.

“It’s kind of like a little study session, a test analysis tool,” Kiser said.

Kiser said East Carter has also been happy to showcase its move to standards-based grading.

“If a student didn’t do so well on that test, they can go back and they are assigned re-teaching activities in a student session,” he said. “That’s been huge for us. We tell teachers it’s not about the grades, it’s about student learning. They can learn from that and improve their grade, and it helps them have more success and go on.”

He said there is also interest in the school’s professional learning communities, which are using the Plan-Do-Study-Act Cycle.

He said other schools are also “very interested” in his school’s science studio lab and the dynamic teaching model used in the mathematics department.

Donaldson said the Montgomery team was particularly interested in East Carter’s schedule, which incorporates Response to Intervention classes, and in the way the school’s class offerings address achievement gap, graduation rate and college/career readiness.

“We put together a set of about 10 guided questions that we were trying to find answers to, trying to glean and take back here to Montgomery County to make sure we’re on the right path,” he said.

He also said he and his colleagues were impressed with the systems approach Kiser described.

“They prioritize their greatest needs, and they all work toward the same goals,” Donaldson said. “What’s the magic formula? It’s just organization and their system and how they prioritize what’s important.”

Parsley said those systems can change as the school sharpens its focus on meeting students’ learning needs.

“Current systems are frequently evaluated and revised based on student data to help ensure continuous improvement,” she said.

Kiser said East Carter teachers are almost always ready to welcome guests from other schools.

“There’s not a lot of days here at East Carter that are a lot different than any other day,” he said. “We tell them to be prepared as if you have visitors in the classroom. Just go on with instruction like you normally would, just another day at the office.”

“I didn’t see a dog-and-pony show,” Donaldson added.

Kiser was an assistant principal when East Carter was designated a Persistently Low Achieving school in the 2010-11 school year, meaning its test scores were in the bottom 5 percent statewide. He was promoted to principal as part of a series of operational and instructional changes, and he said the changes started after an infusion of more than $800,000 in school improvement grants. Soon after, an educational recovery leader and two education recovery specialists came on board.

“They taught me and my assistant things they don’t teach you every day when you’re working on your principalship, better ways of getting instruction across to students,” he said.

East Carter’s college/career readiness rate was 27 percent in 2010-11, but it shot up to 66 percent after one year of interventions, 81.5 percent after two years and 93.8 percent last year. Over the same period, he said, the schools’ composite ACT score rose from 17.4 to 19.1.

After one year, the school was reclassified as Proficient, and the last two years it has been designated as Distinguished.

“It’s just been a total transformation from not only the staff but also the students. They’re taking ownership of their course work,” Kiser said.

He said evidence of that can be found in students who are taking CCR classes to prepare for assessment tests, saying they often head straight for the office of counselor Sheila Porter, who coordinates those tests, as soon as they learn their results.

“We’ve had kids who come running down the hall saying, ‘I passed! I passed! I’m CCR!’ And on the other end, kids who might have missed the benchmark by one or two points are crying in Mrs. Porter’s office,” he said. “That’s the culture change over the last four years.”

Donaldson said he could see that during his visit.

“The kids have taken ownership of it. They’ve embraced it. They’ve done a miraculous job of getting the kids to buy in,” he said.

Parsley said East Carter is proud of its new status.

“The journey from Priority to Hub school required a strong commitment to improving student achievement from all stakeholders and great effort on the part of the administration, staff and students. Therefore, all members of the school community – students, staff, parents and community members – have embraced the designation with a sense of pride,” she said.

MORE INFO …

Larry Kiser larry.kiser@carter.kyschools.us

Coletta Parsley coletta.parsley@education.ky.gov

Robert Donaldson robert.donaldson@montgomery.kyschools.us

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A new approach to teaching mathematics

Second-grade students Allie Grubb and Georgia Banfield match numbers with their visual representations during Amy Orberson's class at at Woodlawn Elementary School (Boyle County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 2, 2014

Second-grade students Allie Grubb and Georgia Banfield match numbers with their visual representations during Amy Orberson’s class at Woodlawn Elementary School (Boyle County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 2, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.kelly@education.ky.gov

If listening to students talk about mathematics brings a smile to a math teacher’s face, hearing students figure out mathematics concepts on their own is music to their ears. This year, teachers at Woodlawn Elementary School are hearing a lot of music.

The Boyle County school started using formative assessment lessons (FAL) in hopes of deepening students’ understanding of math concepts and how to use them.

The lessons are part of the Math Design Collaborative, which provides teachers with tools to help them know whether their students are learning, and if they’re not, to adjust their lessons.

“As teachers, you were trained one way, and you have your way of teaching it, and you have your own biases and your own preset ideas about what kids are going to do and how they learn,” said Bernice Bates, Woodlawn’s principal. “What this FAL does is open teachers’ eyes to the misconceptions students have, and then to what they need to do to change their instruction to meet the needs of kids.”

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No more ‘shushing’ in these school libraries

Corbin Primary School (Corbin Independent) was designed so that all of the hallways would flow through the library, making the library the hub of the school. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 2, 2014

Corbin Primary School (Corbin Independent) was designed so that all of the hallways would flow through the library, making the library the hub of the school.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 2, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.Kelly@education.ky.gov

Two 6th-grade students sit on a couch in front of a large, green screen having a conversation about a book. It’s a middle school version of the Today show, with one student playing the role of the book’s author and the other the interviewer.

The camera is an iPad being held by a student recording the interview with an app that superimposes a studio background.

Across the room, other students gather around a long butcher-block table using markers and poster board to create a storyboard of a book’s plot. Against the wall, three students sit at a bank of iMacs designing presentations about a book.

Meanwhile, a 3-D printer is quietly replicating a castle, which was chosen by students to represent a book’s setting.

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