By Matthew Tungate

Kentucky’s seven 2010 Schools to Watch (STW) seem very different on paper. Four are spread across rural parts of Kentucky, while three are in Louisville suburbs. Two have fewer than 150 students, while another two have more than 700 students. Six have varying numbers of periods in a day, while one is on block scheduling. Three were named Schools to Watch for the first time, two repeated their designation, and one became the first school in Kentucky to be designated a third time.

Fran Salyers, director of the Kentucky Schools to Watch program, said that while each school faces different challenges related to its location, student demographics, levels of district support and other factors, common themes do arise. According to Salyers:

  • “The schools know and articulate the academic outcomes they seek. They are taking deliberate steps to help all students achieve those outcomes by making strategic changes in curriculum, teaching, and school services.”
  • “The schools hold themselves accountable for specific results. Data has an important role in the lives of these schools.”
  • “Each school strategically concentrates its energies on specific areas. As a result, the changes in each school are burrowing deeply into its culture.”
  • “A positive, encouraging learning environment has been created and maintained for both students and staff. Stakeholders are invited and welcomed in the school and communication with all stakeholders via a variety of means is stressed.”
  • “The schools have strong, visionary leaders who can articulate challenging goals and motivate faculty and staff to reach those goals.”
  • “The administrators of the schools honor the professionalism of their teachers, and there is a high level of trust between administrators and teachers.”

The Kentucky Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform named the seven middle level schools as Kentucky Schools to Watch earlier this year. They are:

  • Adairville Elementary and Chandlers Elementary schools (both P-8) in Logan County. Adairville is the first Kentucky school to be named for the third time, and Chandlers was named for the first time. Logan County has four schools designated as Schools to Watch, Salyers said.
  • Boyd County Middle School, which was named a School to Watch for the second time
  • East Oldham and North Oldham middle schools. East Oldham Middle was named for the first time and North Oldham Middle for the second. The Oldham County school district has all four of its middle schools designated as Schools to Watch, Salyers said.
  • Mount Washington Middle School (Bullitt County) and West Carter Middle School (Carter County) were named for the first time.

Schools to Watch is a recognition and school improvement program for middle-level schools developed by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Schools are selected for their academic excellence, responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, and commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels. In addition, the schools have strong leadership, teachers who work together to improve curriculum and instruction, and a commitment to assessment and accountability to bring about continuous improvement. These school characteristics and replicable practices are reported as Academic Excellence, Developmental Responsiveness, Social Equity and Organizational Support.

“The Schools to Watch are indeed special; they make education so exciting that students and teachers don’t want to miss a day,” said Deborah Kasak, National Forum executive director. “These schools have proven that it is possible to overcome barriers to achieving excellence, and any middle-level school in any state can truly learn from their examples.”

Selection is based on a written application that requires schools to show how they meet the 37 criteria developed by the National Forum. Schools that meet the criteria are visited by a team of trained reviewers who observe classrooms; interview administrators, teachers, students and parents; and look at achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons and student work.

Schools are recognized for a three-year period, and at the end of three years must repeat the process to be re-designated. Kentucky has 18 Schools to Watch.

“Student achievement is the focus at these schools, but at the same time they have created a very caring and safe learning environment for all students,” Salyers said. “The STW visit teams were very impressed with these schools and feel that they have much to share with other schools.”