Pulaski County High School Principal Mike Murphy talks with Assistant Principals Arthur Crawford and Rodney McAninch about an upcoming staff meeting. Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 4, 2013

Pulaski County High School Principal Mike Murphy talks with Assistant Principals Arthur Crawford and Rodney McAninch about an upcoming staff meeting.
Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 4, 2013

By Susan Riddell

Two Kentucky schools that have drastically improved their college- and career-readiness rates will now share their strategies and insights with other struggling schools to help them boost achievement and graduation rates.

These two high schools – Pulaski County and Franklin-Simpson – were recently designed by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday as Hub schools. The schools were at one time among the lowest performing in the commonwealth. “We want to share our journey and the steps taken to meet the vision of Pulaski County school district and KDE to graduate all students college- and career-ready,” said Pulaski County High Principal Mike Murphy.

Franklin-Simpson Principal Tim Schlosser agreed.

“The biggest help we can provide other schools would be in helping develop a system of monitoring its students for CCR, and making sure that their students understand their pathways and the academic part of CCR,” Schlosser said

The ultimate goals of the Hub schools will be to create:

  • aligned actions steps that are connected to the identified purpose
  • a system focusing on aligned planning, communication, marketing, effectiveness measures, connections and the target audience
  • best or promising practices that have yielded results at the Hub School and other Priority Schools within the region to share with others

Education recovery leaders from KDE have been assigned to both schools to facilitate and coordinate hub activities. Todd Tucker is the education recovery leader at Pulaski County High. He praised Murphy and his staff for making no excuses with the school’s PLA status.

“Under Mr. Murphy’s leadership, there was no blame,” Tucker said. “It was just ‘How are we going to fix it?’”

That fix started with better communication of the school’s vision of a 100 percent graduation rate and an alignment of systems to meet the needs of all students, Murphy said.

Interventions, school finances, clearly defined roles and responsibilities of the leadership team, data-driven decisions and developing a community of learners within professional learning communities soon became the focus, he added.

“The mandate from KDE’s leadership audit created a sense of urgency for every staff member to accept the responsibility of graduating all students college- and career-ready,” Murphy said. “After a year of intense focus and support, we are extremely proud to provide an academic and social environment where all students can succeed.”

By the end of that year Pulaski County High went from a 61.9 percent CCR rate to 83 percent.  Both Murphy and Tucker said the decisions based on data were pivotal to the school’s improvement. Some were obvious fixes, Murphy said.

“Data suggested the need to change our master schedule to ensure students had yearlong core classes, received interventions if needed and had the opportunity to enroll in a career pathway,” Murphy said.

Tucker said the schedule changes corrected gaps in key classes.

“We are on trimesters, and sometimes there were situations that led to kids taking, for example, Algebra I the first two trimesters of a year. Then Algebra II, they might have that the last two trimesters the following year,” he said. “That’s a big gap between the end of Algebra I and the start of Algebra II.”

With teacher effectiveness, Murphy praised the PLCs and work that occurred when the school piloted the Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (TPGES).

“All administrators have successfully completed the certification process for using Danielson’s Framework for Teaching,” Murphy said. “TPGES is becoming an integral part of providing a culture of ongoing professional learning critical to high levels of student performance.”

“PGES came to us at the perfect time,” Tucker added. “It was kind of scary until we completed the certification, but it has been vital to our process.”

Like Pulaski County High, Franklin-Simpson High also enjoyed success with PGES and a big increase in its CCR rate, improving from 31 percent in 2012 to 83 percent in 2013, according to Schlosser.

Schlosser and education recovery leader Robin Winnecke credit a thorough communications plan to promote and celebrate college- and career readiness along with 30 minutes of daily focus toward instructional student interventions based on the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS)..

“We had an intentional plan for each and every student to become CCR,” Schlosser said. “We insured that the staff was teaching to the standards needed by developing weekly overviews which monitored the learning targets, instructional strategies and formative assessments.”

Winnecke said she considers PGES efforts at Franklin-Simpson High to be “an integrated best practice that laid the foundation for effectiveness in all that we modeled whether it was the culture of the classroom, high expectations set for classroom routine, academic learning targets, student engagement or even setting the expectations for student feedback.

“We intertwined PGES within our rollout of teacher leadership meetings, modeling the domains through high-yield instructional strategies then expected our teacher leaders to replicate the lessons in their department meetings the following week,” Winnecke added.

During this rollout, the Franklin-Simpson High administrators and the education recovery team conducted walkthroughs that coincided with the same PGES component. Teachers received feedback as the walkthroughs were completed.

“This year we are continuing the walkthroughs with a PGES focus, and we give teachers the feedback in areas of encouragement and growth,” Winnecke said.

One of the key strengths of the school, Winnecke said, is its improved ability to reach each student’s needs individually.

“We have testimonies almost daily in the educational recovery room of teachers having tried a new teaching strategy we have modeled for them and how that strategy has helped a child to learn, just because that teacher tried teaching in a different way,” she said. “This is what improvement is all about. We keep trying until we find what works for every child – reaching those who were unreachable before.”

Hub schools
Mike Murphy, mike.murphy@pulaski.kyschools.us, (606) 679-1574
Tim Schlosser, tim.schlosser@simpson.kyschools.us, (270) 586-3273
Todd Tucker, todd.tucker@education.ky.gov, (606) 679-1574
Robin Winnecke, robin.winnecke@education.ky.gov, (270) 586-3273