Eighth-grade student Jimmy Cluxton, center, and his classmates try to solve a code by Principal Shannon Gullett , back left, during Willow Hambrick's lesson on syntax and jargon at Royal Spring Middle School (Scott County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 6, 2013

Eighth-grade student Jimmy Cluxton, center, and his classmates try to solve a code by Principal Shannon Gullett , back left, during Willow Hambrick’s lesson on syntax and jargon at Royal Spring Middle School (Scott County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Sept. 6, 2013

By Matthew Tungate

Despite being chosen as one of the top Kentucky schools for middle-grade students for the fourth time in 10 years, Adairville Elementary School (Logan County) staff and students couldn’t be happier to be designated a 2013 School to Watch, according to Principal Katina Kemplin.

“Each time the school has had the opportunity to apply for School to Watch, it required a great deal of reflection upon the current practices, structures and processes, and the school’s culture and traditions,” she said. “That reflection is keeping our standards high and our ideas fresh. Metaphorically speaking, School to Watch is the high-water mark, our World Cup that we strive to reach – and not just at application time. It’s our end-in-mind year round. It’s the high road the school chose to be on back in 2003, and the one we choose to stay on every day.”

Adairville Elementary is the first school in Kentucky to be designated a School to Watch four times. Other schools named 2013 Schools to Watch are Boyd County Middle, Chandler’s Elementary (Logan County), Lebanon Middle (Marion County), North Washington Elementary, Royal Springs Middle (Scott County) and West Carter Middle.

The state team of judges identified many of the same traits at the schools, such as making connections between content and real life, and using “I Can” statements and a variety of instructional strategies. While preparing students for college and career is not an explicit category the judges look for, they found it in every one of the schools, said Fran Salyers, Schools to Watch state director.

“College- and career-readiness (CCR) just permeates those schools,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Our kids are here to learn, they’re going to achieve and we want them to go forward.’ And I just think they make the kids believe they can do it. And they put it in front of them.”

Adairville Elementary is the “heart and soul of a small, rural farming community nearly void of economic opportunity,” Kemplin said.

That requires educators to prepare students to envision post-secondary education as a part of their futures, she said. Such college-and career-minded thinking includes lining the school hallways with college banners and graduation dates; taking field trips to neighboring colleges and technical schools; and participating in career planning during events like the Reality Store and job shadowing.

“Starting as early as the primary grades and then continuing through the intermediate and middle school years, Adairville students are discussing career options, what they want to be when they grow up, and creating written plans of what they need to do to achieve their career goals,” Kemplin said.

Boyd County Middle teachers and administrators decorated their doors to show where they went to college, Principal Bill Boblett said. The conversation resulting from the displays allowed teachers to show students the many opportunities that are available to them if they attend and stay in school, he said.

To get students college- and career-ready, Boyd County Middle also incorporates the Individual Learning Plan (ILP) into all core and related arts classes, Boblett said. Students also receive specialized instruction for the ILP during one of their related arts rotations. The class meets daily for nine weeks and incorporates varied ILP lessons each day. At the start of the rotation students are introduced to the value of the ILP and how it can be used as a lifelong learning tool. Students then work each day building upon the previous day’s ILP lesson, from investigating their career interests through Career Matchmaker, to developing goals and writing their own resumes, he said.

“This class has proven to be beneficial to students by allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of how the ILP can be used both in the present and in preparing for their future,” Boblett said.

Salyers said she was impressed on her visit to Chandler’s Elementary that a group of 6th-graders voluntarily brought their data binders to show how they were progressing. She also was impressed that students set their own SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals with their teachers and lead conferences with their parents.

“I think some schools have kids keep notebooks of their work and they even put test scores in them, but I don’t think they take them to their next level that this school does in setting the goals and talking to the parents about them,” she said.

Caycee Spears, principal of Chandler’s Elementary, said school staff believe students should be able to specifically communicate their successes as well as the areas where they need to grow by the time they reach middle school.

“This endeavor prepares students for life after high school when they will often be solely responsible for communicating how they are faring,” he said.

Lebanon Middle stands out for its CCR efforts because students there set academic goals, and they also produce a parent newsletter, Salyers said.

Todd Farmer, principal of Lebanon Middle, said students set academic goals for the grading period and the entire staff monitors the students’ efforts. Weekly conferencing takes place with students, reflecting on their goals and devising a written plan to meet their expectations. The students also have a five-year plan that accompanies their CCR goals, he said.

The school newsletter allows students to show off their writing abilities, under the guidance of the media specialist, to keep parents informed of schoolwide and grade-level events, Farmer said. It is just one of many ways that students take an active role in their learning, he said.

“Our school has constructed a model for career exploration where students have the opportunity to participate in the development of specific job-related skills,” Farmer said. “Students are coached by teachers, community leaders and administrators in building interpersonal speaking skills, filling out job applications and developing an ILP that plans their future goals.”

North Washington Elementary’s theme of “Reach for the STARS” and its participation in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program helped it be recognized as a STW for the first time, Salyers said.

“I think that’s setting a tone for those kids to say, ‘We have an expectation, and we know you’re going to do it,’” she said.

Principal Amanda Mattingly said STARS are the school’s guidelines for success:

  • Show a positive attitude.
  • Try your best.
  • Always cooperate.
  • Respect yourself and others.
  • Set goals.

“We believe our guidelines and expectations are closely connected to college- and career-readiness through developing and holding students accountable to ‘soft skills’ that are essential to success in society, regardless of the specific college or career pathway chosen by individual students,” she said.

North Washington Elementary is in its second full year of GEAR UP, Mattingly said. The program provides instruction in learning skills that focus on getting students socially and emotionally ready for college, as well as data-driven student advising, she said. A part-time college and career advisor works directly with students and alongside teachers, she said.

While all the schools focus on CCR, Royal Spring Middle seems to be one of the most intentional, Salyers said.

The school participates in Operation Preparation, sponsors a Reality Store and invites the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority to speak about paying for post-secondary education, she said.

Principal Shannon Gullett said the school also has a job fair in collaboration with Operation Preparation that allows students to continue to explore careers and find out more about what their community has to offer them.

The school has many other CCR initiatives, Gullett said. She meets with every 8th-grader to individually discuss his or her EXPLORE scores; students can take a CCR class where they learn about goal setting and financial literacy, and can explore careers and colleges; job shadowing; and a college preview event.

“The additional programs that we provide are critical because they allow additional opportunity for teachers across content areas to touch upon shared experiences from diverse perspectives, which helps in reaffirming that what is taught in the classroom has a direct correlation to CCR,” Gullett said.

West Carter Middle also makes a concerted effort with the ILP, having two counselors who each meet with students twice per month to work on it, Salyers said.

“So there’s a very intentional, concentrated focus that opens those doors for discussions about their future,” she said.

Principal Ryan Tomolonis said the school also uses its time to emphasize CCR. For instance, once a month students participate in a club, whether they sign up or not, during the school day.

“Our club day gives our students an opportunity to connect with adults in our building,” he said. “Students can participate in multiple clubs and enjoy the opportunity to try new things. Club day is a great way to interact with students outside of the classroom.

Students also get time to walk in the gym before lunch.

“Every child has the opportunity to get seven minutes of exercise daily,” Tomolonis said. “Although seven minutes isn’t a lot, it’s more than some would get all day. It is also a time for students to interact with others and get important announcements that they need to hear.”

Salyers said the schools also share the belief that they can continue to improve, and that is why so many of them have been named STW more than once.

“None of these schools think they’re ‘there,’” she said.

Fran Salyers, fran@ure.net, (859) 792-8404 or (859) 608-2368