Mandy Lawson talks with the language arts PLC members Willie Stepp, Tamelia Webb, Natalie Wheeler and Kathryn McClain at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County). Extra time in the school day allows for PLC meetings during the day. Photo by Amy Wallot Nov. 20, 2014

Mandy Lawson talks with language arts PLC members Willie Stepp, Tamelia Webb, Natalie Wheeler and Kathryn McClain at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County). Extra time in the school day allows for PLC meetings during the day.
Photo by Amy Wallot Nov. 20, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly

A social studies teacher at Sheldon Clark High School (Martin County) might teach 30 minutes of reading. A science teacher might teach 30 minutes of mathematics. And that’s okay with them.

The time is called the Red Zone.

It’s an extra 30-minute period each day in which students are placed in groups to receive intensive instruction targeted to their needs. The goal is to help more students reach proficiency and benchmarks for college/career readiness.

The program uses the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework, which calls for using data to group students, providing intense interventions, then continually monitoring students’ progress.

Most teachers already know which of their students need the most help, but in a typical class they might not have the time to work with them, said Mandy Lawson, who teaches English.

“Now we get this bonus time to take the kids we’ve already targeted,” she said, “and we get to work with them on what they specifically need.”

Former principal Robbie Fletcher started the program in 2011, naming it for the football term for the area between the 20-yard line and goal line.

“At Sheldon Clark we have a strong football tradition, so everybody understood what it means to be in the red zone,” he said. “You are almost there; you’re almost ready to cross the goal line. What can we do to push you across?”

For Sheldon Clark students, the goal line was becoming proficient in subjects such as math or reading, meeting college-and career-readiness benchmarks or, often, just passing a class.

When Fletcher came to Sheldon Clark in 2009, the Martin County school had just seven college-ready seniors.

“Not seven percent, seven,” Fletcher said. The school was the ninth-lowest-performing in the state, placing it in the fifth percentile under Kentucky’s assessment and accountability system. In many classes, half the students did not pass.

“It was almost heartbreaking,” said Fletcher. Soon after he arrived, the school was named a persistently low-achieving school (PLA), which allowed it to receive a grant and assistance from the Kentucky Department of Education to improve student achievement.

After three years, the school has risen to the 57th percentile. Now, 54 of the 126 spring graduates were college ready and 56.3 percent were college- and/or career-ready. The class failure rate has fallen to about 10 percent.

In September, the program was given a Best Practice award by KDE at the Continuous Improvement Summit in Lexington, where Fletcher led a session to explain the program to other educators in the state.

“The turn-around process at Sheldon Clark High School has been nothing short of amazing,” said Royce Mayo, a KDE education recovery leader who served as Fletcher’s PLA mentor. The school is no longer a priority school and is undergoing an audit to remove the PLA designation, he said.

It worked, Mayo said, because it wasn’t just administrators and teachers who took ownership of the program.

“On day one, kids couldn’t tell you anything about a benchmark,” he said. Now students chat in the halls about how many points away they are from a certain benchmark.

“The kids have become a partner in the process, where before a lot of times they were just acted upon,” Mayo said.

RtI is used mostly in elementary and middle schools, but in 2010, as the high school faculty was brainstorming about ways to use the School Improvement Grant, the idea of an intervention period kept rising to the top of the list, said Fletcher, who is now in his first year as superintendent in Lawrence County.

“When we looked at it, the 30-minute intervention period was something that we felt could target kids in a more intense setting and get them where they needed to be,” he said.

But it wasn’t easy to find 30 minutes in the school day. It had to be in the afternoon so that the cafeteria staff’s hours didn’t increase, he said.

“So we actually added 30 minutes to the day,” Fletcher said. “We changed the entire bus schedule in Martin County.”

Students are given a placement test, the data is assessed and then students are grouped in subjects such as reading, math or biology.

The school worked with the Martin County Area Technology Center to make sure that students in both schools were getting the help they needed.

The groups range from eight to 21 students, so in order to have enough teachers to cover all the groups, some teachers had to teach outside their field.

“We had health teachers teaching math, we had social studies teachers teaching reading,” Lawson said. ATC teachers came to the high school to help teach reading, math and science.

There are also groups for college readiness, preparing for the ACT and for career readiness, and preparing for Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment (KOSSA) or WorkKeys tests.

“It was not these are the ATC students and these are the high school students,” said Martha Williams, Martin County’s ATC principal. “They were all our students.”

The program has changed each year, school officials said. When it started, students were kept in the same Red Zone for an entire semester. When school officials realized that was too long, it was changed to nine weeks. Now the Red Zones are three-week increments.

Also, in the beginning administrators took all of the data, mostly Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores, and assigned students to their Red Zone class. Now the teachers examine the data, mostly ACT-type tests, and decide where the students go.

“There were times when the biology department and the English department wanted the same kids because we had End-of-Course tests coming up,” she said. “There were definitely some negotiations that went on.”

In addition to the increased instruction, the small groups allow teachers to form relationships with the students, Lawson said.

“Some days we just did community-building exercises, we just formed relationships, because effort, as we know with adolescents, that’s one of our major obstacles,” she said. “We need to make sure they are motivated and that they want to do what we know they are capable of doing.”

Every other Friday, the Red Zone class is an adviser/advisee class where in addition to a character education curriculum, students go over their own data so they know what they need to work on and what they need to do to move to another Red Zone class.

The program started by offering rewards for students who met their benchmarks or improved.

“We sent kids to the movies if they improved for about anything,” said Fletcher, who received discounted tickets from a local movie theater.

“Now they don’t look for movie tickets, they look for enrichment opportunities,” Fletcher said. “That is the motivation now.”

Now, students who meet benchmarks go to an enrichment class instead of a Red Zone. Teachers design the classes they want to teach and eligible students choose. Classes have included quilting, journalism, art design, drama, the history of rock ‘n’ roll, a study of Alfred Hitchcock and a poetry slam, Lawson said.

When the program started, very few students were eligible for enrichment.

“Now we’re getting a lot more kids in enrichment and fewer and fewer in intervention,” she said. “That’s how we know it’s working, that’s been the true success story.”


Robbie Fletcher

Royce Mayo

Mandy Lawson

Martha Williams

Click here to see Robbie Fletcher’s Prezi on RtI in the secondary level

To download Sheldon Clark’s Best Practices submission or find other Best Practices in the state, go to KDE’s Best Practices website.