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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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Empowering teachers without leaving children behind

Rowan Claypool, center, founder of Teach Kentucky, makes a point during a discussion at the Kentucky Teach to Lead Leadership Summit in Louisville. Photo by Mike Marsee, Dec. 6, 2014

Rowan Claypool, center, founder of Teach Kentucky, makes a point during a discussion at the Kentucky Teach to Lead Leadership Summit in Louisville.
Photo by Mike Marsee, Dec. 6, 2014

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

A group of teachers who believe they don’t have to leave the classroom to lead in their schools shared and reshaped those ideas earlier this month at a first-of-its-kind conference in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Teach to Lead Leadership Summit brought together about 100 teachers and 40 other supporters as part of an initiative of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to promote teacher leadership opportunities, particularly those that allow teachers to remain in the classroom.

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Red Zone success helps high school bounce back

Mandy Lawson talks with the language arts PLC members Willie Stepp, Tamelia Webb, Natalie Wheeler and Kathryn McClain at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County). Extra time in the school day allows for PLC meetings during the day. Photo by Amy Wallot Nov. 20, 2014

Mandy Lawson talks with language arts PLC members Willie Stepp, Tamelia Webb, Natalie Wheeler and Kathryn McClain at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County). Extra time in the school day allows for PLC meetings during the day.
Photo by Amy Wallot Nov. 20, 2014

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

A social studies teacher at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County) might teach 30 minutes of reading. A science teacher might teach 30 minutes of mathematics. And that’s okay with them.

The time is called the Red Zone.

It’s an extra 30-minute period each day in which students are placed in groups to receive intensive instruction targeted to their needs. The goal is to help more students reach proficiency and benchmarks for college/career readiness.

The program uses the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework, which calls for using data to group students, providing intense interventions, then continually monitoring students’ progress.

Most teachers already know which of their students need the most help, but in a typical class they might not have the time to work with them, said Mandy Lawson, who teaches English.

“Now we get this bonus time to take the kids we’ve already targeted,” she said, “and we get to work with them on what they specifically need.”

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Learning won’t stop when the snow piles up

Sophomore Ashley Reed, center,  looks over the course material for the Psychology of Lying class created in part by Owsley County High School teachers Stevi Nolan, left, and  Jennifer Hall, right, as part of the school's snowbound program. Reed said she much preferred the new program of having one class for snowbound instead of work from seven different classes.  Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 25, 2014

Sophomore Ashley Reed, center, looks over the course material for the Psychology of Lying class created in part by Owsley County High School teachers Stevi Nolan, left, and Jennifer Hall, right, as part of the school’s snowbound program. Reed said she much preferred having one class for snowbound instead of work from seven different classes.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 25, 2014

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

Could snow days become a thing of the past in Kentucky schools? Perhaps not soon, but a program that allows instruction to go on even when schools are closed might be a step in that direction.

The Kentucky Department of Education is allowing 13 districts to use virtual or other non-traditional means of instruction to replace up to 10 snow days this winter that would not have to be made up. Teachers in those districts have been getting ready for winter days in which classes may be called off but learning will go on.

“It’s hard to come up with lessons a month or two in advance, and in fact, we’ve had to put a little extra work into finding things kids can do in an hour of time that are different from what normal instruction for a class looks like,” said Michelle Feistritzer, a business teacher at Boyle County High School. “It will be different, and it’s nice to know we’re getting the opportunity.”

Some districts have been preparing for non-traditional days for months.

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In eastern Kentucky, a technological leap forward

By Peter Mathews
peter.mathews@education.ky.gov

Eastern Kentucky schoolchildren have recently traveled to a copper mine, visited a White House chef, chatted with a Yellowstone Park ranger and taken a field trip to the Knoxville, Tenn., zoo, all without leaving their desks.

Those trips were made possible by a $30 million, four-year federal grant that is boosting technology, partnerships and regional collaboration in the 17 school districts that make up the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative (ARI), members say.

The districts are part of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), which was one of five recipients nationally of Race to the Top funds in 2013.

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Hopkins schools learn the power of positive behavior

First-grade teacher Jamie Moss hands a bee buck to Maggie Crick for promptly starting her assignment at Earlington Elementary School (Hopkins High School). Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 16, 2014

First-grade teacher Jamie Moss hands a bee buck to Maggie Crick for promptly starting her assignment at Earlington Elementary School (Hopkins County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 16, 2014

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

Every Friday at Madisonville North Hopkins High School, 10 students get to choose a prize after their names are drawn out of a box full of tickets. Their names are read over the speaker system to recognize them for being MOPS.

Maroons
Operate responsibly
Plan goals and have high expectations and
Show respect.

Students get the tickets when teachers see them living up to the motto. The prize is nothing big, said assistant principal Adam Harris – maybe a T-shirt, a snack or University of Kentucky paraphernalia.

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