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Helping parents understand math helps students

Wearing the mathematician hat, preschool student Kaden Coons helps his teacher Donna Howard solve a math word problem at Whitesville Elementary School (Daviess County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 5, 2015

Wearing the mathematician hat, preschool student Kaden Coons helps his teacher Donna Howard solve a math word problem at Whitesville Elementary School (Daviess County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 5, 2015

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

When her 4th-grade students at Camp Dick Robinson Elementary kept coming to school with their mathematics homework completed but not with the calculation methods she was teaching, Ruth Wall knew something had to change.

Instead of multiplying and dividing using the strategies called for in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for Math, such as equations, arrays or area models, the homework was done the way most of her students’ parents had learned to multiply and divide – using a formula.

“What happens is you show the children the new way,” Wall said, “Then in the homework the parents say ‘You must do it the way I know how to do it, because it’s the only way I can help you.’”

So Wall, who has taught at the Garrard County school for 27 years, started giving marks for not following directions.

“The parents were furious,” she said. “But if I don’t give students marks for it, I’m saying, ‘It’s OK if you never learn it.’”

The only way for her students to learn, she decided, was to teach their parents. Continue Reading

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Yearlong program focused on creating stronger school, district leaders

Peaks Mill Elementary School (Franklin County) principal Dana Blankenship is participating in LEAD-Kentucky. Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 6, 2015

Peaks Mill Elementary School (Franklin County) principal Dana Blankenship is participating in LEAD-Kentucky.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 6, 2015

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

Dana Blankenship isn’t done with LEAD-Kentucky, but she has done enough to know it works.

Blankenship, the principal at Peaks Mill Elementary in Franklin County, still has several months to go in the program that is providing leadership training to school and district leaders, but she said what she has learned has already impacted her and her school.

She said she has been incorporating the principles she has learned in the program, and she said Peaks Mill has begun to change as a result.

“I have to stop and think about how I’m going to do a staff meeting now, because I think about the whole process involved in it,” Blankenship said. “It just seems to come naturally, and you don’t realize it’s happening. The strategic thinking and the systems thinking, all of that is a big part of how we move in this building now.”

Blankenship is one of about 100 educators participating in LEAD-Kentucky (Leadership for Education and Development in Kentucky), a yearlong program begun last summer in which the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) hopes to develop stronger leaders for schools and districts that need them most. Continue Reading

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Learning better together

By Peter Mathews

There are Skittles on the cafeteria table at Hawthorne Elementary, but it isn’t food that’s on the 5th-graders’ minds. The pieces of candy are representing elements in a lesson about how to make chemical compounds.

What’s unusual about the lesson at the Jefferson County school is that it’s being taught not by the students’ teacher, Flora Martinez, but by teams of students from duPont Manual High School. And everyone’s speaking only in Spanish.

The class is a partnership between Hawthorne, the district’s only Spanish immersion program and one of only a handful in the state, and Manual teacher Ana Castro’s ­Spanish Conversation class.

Martinez said her students “love to work with kids who are older than them.”

Global competency and world language will become part of elementary and middle school’s program review in the 2016-17 school year. It will be part of the program review in high schools next school year. The effort is part of Senate Bill 1 (2009) which mandated new more rigorous standards to ensure Kentucky students are ready to compete in the 21st century economy and, in turn, strengthen the long-term economic health of the state.

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KSD teacher uses math program for instant feedback

Lee Alan Roher works with juniors Jeffery Carter and Brianna Jones on adding and subtracting complex numbers at the Kentucky School for the Deaf. Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 15, 2015

Lee Alan Roher works with juniors Jeffery Carter and Brianna Jones on adding and subtracting complex numbers at the Kentucky School for the Deaf.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Jan. 15, 2015

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

When students in a math class aren’t learning at the same pace, Lee Alan Roher has a way of bringing them all together.

Roher’s use of a web-based program in her high school mathematics classes at Kentucky School for the Deaf allows her to meet students at any point in their progress and to make sure they’re meeting state standards.

And while she didn’t create the program, she has had a role in its evolution and has surely become one of its biggest boosters.

“I use it whenever I possibly can,” Roher said. “Of course, I have time invested in it, using it for this long.”

Roher has sweat equity invested in it as well. She has been working with faculty members in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Mathematics since 2005 on MathClass, which offers interactive homework and diagnostic testing.

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Charter schools, teacher pension funding top issues in 2015 Regular Session

Seniors Lucero Garcia and Jennifer Velazquez work on a dummy during Medicaid Nurse Aide 100, a dual credit course at Mayfield/Graves County ATC offered through West Kentucky Community and Technical College. A bill that would require implementation of a dual credit course policy and acceptance of articulated credit courses at public colleges and universities is among the education-related legislation that will be considered during the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

Seniors Lucero Garcia and Jennifer Velazquez work on a dummy during Medicaid Nurse Aide 100, a dual credit course at Mayfield/Graves County ATC offered through West Kentucky Community and Technical College. A bill that would require implementation of a dual credit course policy and acceptance of articulated credit courses at public colleges and universities is among the education-related legislation that will be considered during the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Dec. 10, 2014

By Tracy Goff Herman
tracy.herman@education.ky.gov

The annual pilgrimage to the Capitol for the 2015 Regular Session of the General Assembly began in January and started back up last week. This is a so-called “short session,” which meets for only 30 days during odd-numbered years.

Members convened on Jan. 6 for four days to elect leadership, adopt rules, and confirm committee chairs and appoint committee members. The General Assembly then took a break until Feb. 3 before considering legislation in earnest. Revenue measures are generally not considered during short sessions because it takes a 3/5 majority vote to approve additional appropriations, and that means 23 senators and 60 representatives must approve any changes to the budget.

During the break between the organizational week and the resumption of the session last week, a couple of big issues have percolated to the top of the discussions: charter schools and how to address the unfunded liability in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System.

Charter Schools

Much like gambling, whether or not the legislature should authorize charter schools has become a perennial issue in Kentucky. Kentucky is one of eight states without charters. On Friday, a bill that would create a pilot program to allow up to five public charter schools in Jefferson and Fayette counties passed the Senate. SB 8, filed Continue Reading

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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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