Rachel Hacker, a 5th-grade teacher at Bush Elementary School (Laurel County), fields a question from a student as her class works on an on-demand writing project. Bush Elementary is one of four public schools in Kentucky to be named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education. Photo by Mike Marsee, Dec. 7, 2015

Rachel Hacker, a 5th-grade teacher at Bush Elementary School (Laurel County), fields a question from a student as her class works on an on-demand writing project. Bush Elementary is one of four public schools in Kentucky to be named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education.
Photo by Mike Marsee, Dec. 7, 2015

By Mike Marsee

Families take care of their own, and “Bush families” have been taking care of their community school for a long, long time.

Bush Elementary School’s principal and many of its teachers and students are second- and third-generation members of those families, who have been investing in their school for decades.

“We have a lot of Bush families here,” said Principal Lisa Sibert, who attended Bush Elementary as a child, as did her husband and daughter.

The eastern Laurel County school’s most recent source of pride is its designation as a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal education officials declared the school an Exemplary High-Performing School based on student achievement and several other research-based indicators of school quality. Bush Elementary was one of four public schools in Kentucky to receive the honor in 2015.

Several faculty members said high expectations help set their school apart, not just in this year of Blue Ribbon recognition, but year after year.

“We just expect them to do well and they expect to do well, parents expect them to do well. It’s community, teachers and kids knowing what they have to do,” first-grade teacher Olivia Sumner said.

“The entire staff here wants the same thing, and that’s for our kids to excel to the highest point that they’re able,” kindergarten teacher Emilie Smith said.

Bush scored in the 99th percentile in the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) Test in the 2013-14 school year, ranking fifth in the state. It was named a School of Distinction in 2013 and 2014 and was one of two Kentucky schools chosen as National Title I Schools by the National Title I Association in 2014.

Sibert said Bush was already an outstanding school when she took over as principal in 2009.

“It’s been a great school,” she said.

Bush’s K-PREP proficient and distinguished scores improved by 20 percent in the 2013-14 school year and its novice rate fell 7 percent. The school displays photos of students who earn proficient or distinguished status on their assessments on a Wall of Fame in a main hallway.

Sibert said the school leaders and staff are particularly proud of the success rate of its students with disabilities, whom she said score comparably with the overall student body and even surpass the general population in some subjects.

She said there are a number of strategies in place that have led to that success, including the assignment of a teacher mentor to every special education student. That mentor works with the student throughout the year, establishing a relationship in which the student feels comfortable.

The school also is working to close the achievement gap. An after-school learning club, MARS (Math and Reading = Success), was established for students in grades 3-5 to help close the gap at a school in which 53 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The club meets twice a week to give students hands-on learning activities to improve their reading and mathematics skills. All 30 of the students who were in the club in 2013-14 made improvements in those areas.

In addition, schoolwide regrouping for skills challenges students who perform at a high level and allows the faculty to better assist those who need extra help.

“We push our kids, and it’s every kid in this building, no matter if it’s the highest academically capable child or the lowest academically capable child,” 5th-grade teacher Rachel Hacker said. “We have the expectation that no matter what their ability level is, they’re going to achieve their full potential.”

Bush offers several annual schoolwide activities to help engage students, including an American history day in September, a character dress-up day in October and a musical in November. The musical is part of a strong arts and humanities program that includes rotating classes in music, drama, dance and visual arts.

Sibert said there is also an emphasis on reading throughout all areas of the curriculum. The district requires all Laurel County schools to implement the same reading curriculum.

“There has been a lot of time, money, and effort in putting this reading curriculum in place, and our students have made huge gains,” she said.

Sibert said the community has come to expect great things from Bush and has gone the extra mile to support those expectations. She said the school’s parent-teacher organization raised about $50,000 in 2014-15 to help meet students’ needs, financing everything from an additional computer lab to materials for the school’s drama/musical club.

“We can’t brag enough on our PTO,” 4th-grade mathematics teacher Melanie Philpot said. “They buy us anything we want. They really do. They raise all that money, but they don’t sit on it. They put it right back into the school. We’re very thankful for what they give us.”

Those donations also include time. Sibert said parents and other community members gave about 2,000 volunteer hours to the school in 2014-15. PTO members work daily in the school, helping with office work, assisting in the library and even selling ice cream. A small group of mothers offers homework assistance to struggling students before school.

Sibert said the staff is committed to ensuring Bush remains one of the state’s top schools, so it’s little surprise that teachers didn’t take much time to savor their Blue Ribbon designation.

“There wasn’t much of a celebration, because we’re so in tune to what we have to do this year,” Philpot said. “We’re already worried about this group and maintaining and doing even more.”

Sumner said the teachers took only a few minutes to share the news with their students.

“We were all real happy and proud and celebrating,” she said, “and then we all got back to work.”



Lisa Sibert lisa.sibert@laurel.kyschools.us

Rachel Hacker rachel.hacker1@laurel.kyschools.us

Melanie Philpot melanie.philpot@laurel.kyschools.us

Emilie Smith emilie.smith@laurel.kyschools.us

Olivia Sumner olivia.sumner@laurel.kyschools.us