By Susan Riddell
By now, Kentucky educators should know that a District 180 school is a school that has been identified as persistently low-achieving.
These schools (currently 22 in the state) receive federal money and support for as long as three years to improve student achievement and overall school climate.
But what many may not know is these schools have the same goal as others in the state: to get students college and/or career ready.
“I’m telling everyone, ‘Sure, we’re about turning around schools, but the truth is we’re really about turning around kids,’” said Dewey Hensley, associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of District 180. “All kids have a chance to be successful, especially those at District 180 schools.”
The initiative, which began in the spring of 2010, also has evolved to include a broader focus, he said.
“District 180 is rapidly turning into a network of schools that serve some of the highest-need populations in Kentucky,” Hensley said. “What we are attempting to do with District 180 is pull these schools together into a network that focuses on the best strategies for turning around low-performing schools.”
Ultimately, Hensley said, his vision is that people who are involved with District 180 will play significant roles in improving learning not only in their schools, but across the state.
“It’s my hope that at the end of that process, they have become experts at school turnaround, that they are experts in instruction, curriculum alignment, assessment and building a culture of high achievement for all children,” he said.
College and career focused
Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County) was named a District 180 school in 2011
Principal Robbie Fletcher said while turnaround is the goal, a specific focus has been placed on college and career readiness.
“We have made the effort to put the idea in the forefront of our students’ minds,” said Fletcher, who has noticed students becoming more focused on preparing college or a career. For example, we have more students taking college algebra than before,” he said. “Also, students get their MAP scores as well as other test scores and want to know if they are meeting benchmarks and how they can improve. With this attitude, our students will be ready for whatever test or challenge they will face this year and in years to come.”
Other steps taken by the school include adding a Response to Intervention (RtI) period to target individual student needs. Students are placed in the classes based on MAP testing and ACT’s Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) benchmarks, Fletcher said. In addition, the school is incorporating QualityCore standards in state testing classes as well as other classes offered by QualityCore.
“Finally, we are in the process of including standards-based grading as a better way to help target students and inform instructional decisions,” Fletcher said.
Faith Stroud, who took over as principal of Knight Middle School (Jefferson County) in July, said her school is taking an “each” child approach while focusing on instruction.
“I have daily job-embedded professional development (PD) built into my master schedule where teachers learn and discuss daily learning targets and formative assessments,” Stroud said. “During that PD time, we also analyze student data (work samples, cognitive and non-cognitive) to determine which students need interventions. Throughout the year, we have an overall goal of developing a strong professional learning community.”
Susan Allred, education recovery director (ERD) for eastern Kentucky, said in her education recovery team, specialists work to help the schools implement targeted plans based on the data for their students.
“Primarily the data we’re looking at is literacy in English and math and, of course, the statewide goal of college and career ready,” Allred said.
Allred echoed Hensley’s sentiment that District 180 schools are just as college- and career- focused as non-District 180 schools.
“Just like all the schools in the state, the whole college- and career-readiness focus is new to the entire state, so it really is not significantly different in these schools than it is in all schools in Kentucky,” Allred said.
The schools are using EPAS data, including PLAN and ACT, to gauge how they are doing and to determine what interventions they need to provide for students, she said.
“So what we see in these schools is an attempt at some innovative thinking about how to get the skill level of the high school students up,” Allred said. “Now, that’s something we always do at the elementary level. We just naturally think, ‘Okay. What do we need to do with this group of students? What are the skills deficits based on the assessments and what do we need to do differently for these students?’”
District 180 personnel look for improved student performance on quarterly assessments. They then connect that to the curriculum needed to teach for success, Hensley said.
“That’s our common standards and in some cases our core content,” he said. “Schools have started the year off with 30-, 60- and 90-day goals. These are planned so schools can jump into improvement on the first day.”
Hensley said each school has a different set of goals based on needs.
“Each school has different kids and different content areas at different places,” Hensley said. “In some schools, literacy may need to be the primary focus because that’s where the data indicates they are weakest. In other places, it could be mathematics. In other places, it could be a combination of the two, so you focus on the culture of the school. What we need to be able to do is differentiate our support for these schools so we give them what they need to help kids succeed.”
Stroud said Knight Middle’s 30-, 60- and 90-day goals are focused on building “a positive culture of high expectations, building staff capacity instructionally and as teacher leaders, and implementing a professional development plan that provides time not just for training but crucial follow-up time that will truly inform and change teacher practice.”
At Sheldon Clark High, goals are targeted in three main areas: quality of instruction, data-driven decision-making and school culture, Fletcher said. Eventually, he said, the school will add a fourth goal: state-aligned curriculum.
“With the quality of instruction piece, we have established ‘non-negotiables’ that we feel should be seen in every classroom,” Fletcher said. “Peer and administrative walkthroughs are completed to open the professional dialogue that helps teachers incorporate these non-negotiables in the classroom.
For the data-driven decision-making piece, school personnel analyze available data to see what changes need to be made to students’ schedules, instructional processes and other areas.
For the school culture piece, the school has outside agencies perform culture and school safety audits, Fletcher said. “The results of these audits will be utilized to add to the culture of our school community,” he said.
“As for the curriculum piece, we understand the adoption of the common core standards for math and reading, along with end-of-course testing, has increased the academic rigor and expectations in the classroom, and we must ensure that our students are receiving that curriculum.”
Fletcher said Sheldon Clark High had achieved about 75 percent of its 30-day goals within 20 days of the school year, and the remaining goals are still in progress.
“Overall, I’m pleased with where we are, but we have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
A network for change
Aside from working with ERDs like Allred and education recovery specialists, District 180 schools have learned to work together and lean on each other for support.
In July, staff members at each school attended turnaround training together. Sheldon Clark High also has worked with staff in Leslie and Lawrence counties, while Knight Middle and Southern High School have worked closely together in Jefferson County.
“I know that if I need additional support, I can pick up the phone and call any of the administrators of the other District 180 schools,” Fletcher said.
While some schools are in the second year as District 180 schools and others are in their first year, Hensley and Allred agree that they are excited to see how things unfold for these schools in the years to come.
“I hope to bring an awareness of the possibilities for these schools,” Hensley said. “We have to have a belief system that enables us to act or to make things happen for each kid every day so that we see the possibilities. Children from poverty can learn at high levels when given the opportunity. Some kids have gifts we have not uncovered yet. If we keep unfolding the students, we will find the value in them and help them have dreams, plan toward those dreams and ultimately achieve those dreams. Then District 180 will be extremely successful.”
Allred, who worked as a teacher and administrator in North Carolina and South Carolina for 39 years prior to coming to Kentucky, said being part of District 180 is the most exciting work she has ever done.
“We are challenging things that have been in place for a very, very long time,” she said. “It isn’t just another initiative. It honestly is about transforming these schools. It’s scary, and it’s exciting.”
Equally exciting, she said, is the how professionals, teachers, principals, the universities and the educational cooperatives all are focused on Senate Bill 1.
“All are talking common Kentucky goals, and I’ve never in my career – as long as it’s been – been a part of something where everyone talks of a common direction,” Allred said, “Senate Bill 1, the universities are aligned with that; K-12 is aligned with that; the public support is for that. There’s a common goal for everyone in Kentucky. If it’s ever going to happen for these schools, it should be now.”
Dewey Hensley, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-2116
Susan Allred, email@example.com, (502) 564-2116
Robbie Fletcher, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 298-3591
Faith Stroud, email@example.com, (502) 485-8287