Commitment from schools paying off


By Susan Riddell

Senior Marina Vitatoe paints a ceiling tile during an independent study with art teacher Linda Ishmael at Deming School (Robertson County). Vitatoe was planning on attending Morehead State University to study graphic design on a partial art scholarship. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 14, 2012
Senior Marina Vitatoe paints a ceiling tile during an independent study with art teacher Linda Ishmael at Deming School (Robertson County). Vitatoe was planning on attending Morehead State University to study graphic design on a partial art scholarship. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 14, 2012

During the 2011-12 school year, Kentucky districts answered the call when challenged by Commissioner Terry Holliday and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to sign the Commonwealth Commitment.

Every district agreed to move 50 percent of their district’s high school graduates who are not college- and/or career-ready to college- and/or career-ready between 2010 and 2015.

To get a firm grasp on what schools were doing to facilitate this pledge and bring it to fruition, KDE staff members visited seven schools that have made significant strides toward student success in college and/or career readiness.

These visits consisted of interviews with teachers and school administrators and focused on how they were implementing a college- and career-readiness agenda.

Todd Baldwin, who formerly worked as a research and policy analyst at the time of the site visits, but who is currently an executive strategic advisor for the Office of Next-Generation Learners, said identifying promising practices around increasing college and career readiness and graduation rates was the main intent of these site visits.

“Focus groups were conducted to understand how schools and districts were engaging in the College and Career Readiness agenda and what lessons can be learned,” Baldwin said. “Discussions focused on school use of data, advising programs, pathways to college and career readiness and access to high-quality and rigorous instruction.”

Participating schools included:

  • Berea Independent High
  • Bowling Green High
  • Deming School (Robertson County)
  • Estill County High
  • North Oldham High (Oldham County)
  • South Oldham High (Oldham County)
  • Paris Independent High

“Schools were selected by convenience from those that had made significant gains in their College and Career Readiness numbers and/or graduation rates as compared to the previous years and the state average,” Baldwin said.

“The goal of the visit was not to identify specific schools, though their accomplishments were celebrated,” he added. “Rather, we examined the commonalities in practice. All the schools we visited showed a commitment to college and career readiness and a sharp focus on what is best for kids.”

Deming Principal Jamey Johnson and Robertson County Assistant Superintendent Garrick Ratliff were pleased that Deming School was commended for its interventions, use of data analysis and persistence for high-quality school culture and structure.

At the elementary level, the school offers several reading and mathematics interventions. For middle and high school students, response to intervention (RtI) for reading and mathematics is in place. “We also have an ACT intervention class during RtI for students that did not make benchmark on the ACT as well as an ACT prep class during RtI for students who have not taken the ACT or PLAN,” Ratliff said.

Middle school students also benefit from Reality Town, a simulated financial experience complete with job and family lifestyle scenarios.

“In the Reality Town simulation, students make financial decisions regarding their Reality Town family and their monthly expenditures as they visit 22 different ‘businesses’ that have been set up around the gym including groceries, housing, medical offices and child care, which are staffed by local professionals, community volunteers and parents,” Johnson said.

With each choice they make at the different businesses, students establish their Reality Town lifestyle and determine their monthly budget, Johnson added. Struggling students also receive additional financial counseling and supplemental “income” during the Reality Town experience.

Each student at Deming keeps a data notebook/folder that features the student’s mission, goals and action plans to support learning. These notebooks also may contain charts, graphs and formative assessments to self-monitor progress.

“Data notebooks empower students to become accountable for their learning,” Ratliff said. “By writing goals/objectives based on actual course or subject objectives, students have control over their pace of learning. Goals/objectives are also written by students to capture short-term gains to motivate themselves to achieve long-range goals.”

“As with classroom data centers, analyzing what is working or not working provides timely feedback to the student to correct the course of action, as needed,” Johnson added. “The notebook also documents progress that can predict course grades, providing ‘no surprises’ at the end of each school quarter or semester.”

Freshman Clay Cox works on an ACT prep test at Deming School (Robertson County). He is planning on going to college to study veterinary science or business. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 14, 2012
Freshman Clay Cox works on an ACT prep test at Deming School (Robertson County). He is planning on going to college to study veterinary science or business. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 14, 2012

Estill County High School’s site visit gave KDE insight into the school’s focus on ACT benchmarks. ACT data are routinely analyzed and discussed at the school level and out in the community.

“In 2008, our school approached the school board to request permission to switch our entire focus of the high school to an ACT curriculum,” Principal Blain Click said. “In that year, the school had applied for a GEAR UP grant and established the goal of the grant to focus completely on ACT scores. It was our contention that Kentucky Core Content Test was on its way out and at that point, we had performed as well as we could on that state assessment.

“We concluded that a curriculum based entirely on the ACT provided a greater sense of motivation for both students and staff given the high placement value on college entrance scores,” Click added. “We also concluded that the new assessment would resemble the ACT in some fashion. The staff appreciates the fact that curriculum is a great benefit to the student and thus maintains focus on the ACT.”

According to Click, all seniors take ACT WorkKeys test for free, and last year the schools began a two-year graduation program for students wanting to finish school early.

Freshmen are encouraged to take the ACT early on to prepare them for dual credit classes their junior and senior years. The PLAN is given to freshman and sophomores “to further prepare their mindsets toward the Educational Planning and Assessment System,” he said.

“Our staff and students understand that our ACT approach is beneficial to all stakeholders and that makes all the difference,” Click said.

A commonality of several schools that participated in the site visits is that many of these schools partner with nearby colleges on everything from interventions to basic mentoring.

Deming School works with Morehead State University, and Estill County works with Eastern Kentucky University. Berea Community High School (Berea Independent) has many collaborative efforts with Berea College.

“Our schools have been members of the Berea College GEAR UP grant for several years,” Berea High Principal Donna Lovell said. “The GEAR UP program has increased the communication to parents regarding opportunities for our students. This year, we have made a point to express the expectation for all students to be career- and college-ready.

“Our expectation is to make certain that all our students have all the opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills and leadership that they need to successful transition to postsecondary learning (college or training) and becoming contributing citizens,” Lovell added. “It is essential that our school leadership provide support and opportunities to teachers/staff, communicate with parents/community and understand the needs of all students in order to reach our goals.”

Lovell serves as principal for both Berea high and middle schools.

Students in the 6th grade are targeted with a college- and/or career-readiness agenda and by their freshman year, they are expected to “understand the full importance their own responsibility in terms of graduation, as well as the resources available to them if the student realizes they need assistance,” Lovell said.

Middle school students also are given the option to take reading and mathematics labs as elective courses.

“Our reading and math labs are part of our tier III intervention plan,” Lovell said. “We have found that used both as tier III and elective tier II interventions, we have a good deal of success with both the math and reading labs.

Baldwin said he was not surprised by what he saw during the site visits.

“These schools engaged in practices that are research-based and understood to be high-quality change processes,” Baldwin said. “Schools had clearly defined goals and agendas (vertical/horizontal control and integration) facilitated by structural design(s). Leadership used data to help establish or refine these goals and agendas and used structures to foster routines to communicate and operationalize their goals and agendas.

“Structural ‘fit’ was evident. Staff clearly understood how their own practices related to their organizational goals,” Baldwin added. “Core beliefs were expressed in scheduling priorities, hiring strategies, communication routines, partnerships, the use of time and the allocation of resources.”

April Pieper,, (502) 564-2106
Jamey Johnson,, (606) 724-5421
Garrick Ratliff,, (606) 724-5431
Blain Click,, (606) 723-3537
Donna Lovell,, (859) 986-4911