First-grade student Callie Austin listens to curriculum coach Selena Cochran teach sentence structure during a writing lab at Porter Elementary School (Johnson County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 16, 2012

First-grade student Callie Austin listens to curriculum coach Selena Cochran teach sentence structure during a writing lab at Porter Elementary School (Johnson County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 16, 2012

Sandra Music couldn’t bring herself to eat the blue mashed potatoes.

Even though her Porter Elementary School (Johnson County) students told her they tasted just like regular mashed potatoes, Music took a pass on the lunch item last fall. “That whole week the kids’ mouths were blue,” she joked. “One day it was mashed potatoes, another day it was blue suckers. They had something blue to eat every day.”

The school went blue to celebrate its recognition as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School.

Blue tongues aside, Music said it was worth it because it helped the students realize the significance of the Blue Ribbon accomplishment they helped earn.

“By the end of the week, they got what the excitement was all about,” said Music, who has been principal at the school for four years. “The entire Paintsville community was behind us. We were recognized at the board meeting, there was a proclamation, and the students really got that they were doing great things at this school.”

Porter Elementary School’s progress in assessment and accountability has been steady in recent years, Music said.

She credits some of that progress to the school’s focus on writing. This year, Porter Elementary opened a writing lab where students receive help to improve their writing from Heather Butcher, the school’s Title II curriculum coach. Music said Butcher’s work has made a positive impact on test scores.

Butcher, who prior to the lab’s creation used to visit individual classrooms to work with students on their writing, said having a designated lab space that students visit regularly has helped reinforce the importance of writing for students. “I think the kids saw it as the next step,” she said. “It was one thing for me to enter their classes, but another for them to walk into a room designated for writing.”

Additionally, teachers who observed Butcher in their classrooms during the 2011-12 school year are now modeling her work and lessons while she facilitates learning in the lab.

The lab also gives Butcher more time to meet with students and work on their writing.

“If I really see struggling students, I can target them in small groups,” Butcher said. “Writing can be difficult, but it’s important that kids have the right attitude about it. Then you can develop a love of writing.”

When she’s not working in the writing lab, Butcher leads 3rd grade Response to Intervention reading groups. She also participates in professional learning communities and English/language arts content network meetings.

“I believe it is through these initiatives and the collaboration efforts of Mrs. Butcher with our school’s Professional Learning Communities that have helped us continue to raise our reading and writing scores,” Music said. “We’ve had good writing scores with on demand, but we really wanted that consistency.”

Another initiative that helped boost the school’s scores was its Explore class, which is taught by Title I teacher Selena Cochran.

Students attend the Explore class weekly; the lessons vary depending on need.

Music said that when the school saw their recent K-PREP results, they were a little disappointed in 6th-grade editing and mechanics, so they were able to work on improvement through the Explore class. The Explore class this year also has offered keyboarding, drama, and interventions focused on extended response in mathematics.

“I really see the benefit of the Explore class,” Butcher said. “Whether it’s in writing or the Explore class, students are getting that extra help, and Selena and I are able to collaborate with teachers so that we are all on the same page.”

Music praised the work of her teachers at Porter Elementary and said she hopes to increase the use of technology in instruction in the future. Each classroom in the school currently is equipped with iMac computers, iPads, student responders/clickers, document cameras, 50-inch monitors, audio enhancers and SMART boards.

“What I’d like to see next with our technology is each student with an individual unit (like an iPad) that he or she can utilize for learning and that will assist them more with individual learning goals,” Music said. “We want to broaden in 21st century technology. The children love learning games, and they are so advanced with social media. The more we can embrace technology, the better off we’ll be.”


Sandra Music,,us, (606) 789-2545