yonts a 300KENTUCKY (8/20/14) — Sometimes schools get off track and are unable to meet the strict learning standards that the Commonwealth and the federal government have set for them.

These institutions are known in Kentucky state government and educators' circles as "Priority Schools"-persistently low achieving schools which require state intervention to get back on track. And Kentucky has 39 of them, some right here in West Kentucky.

The 39 schools were identified under federal guidelines implemented under the No Child Left Behind Act, and are regularly monitored by the state in an effort to fulfill the Kentucky Department of Education's vision that all students in Kentucky be college and/or career ready when they receive their diploma.

State officials came before the Interim Joint Committee on Education last Monday to discuss where these schools are in terms of progressing out of Priority status and how the state is helping them.

Twenty one of 30 high schools labeled Priority by the state are doing very well, according to KDE Office of Next Generation Schools official Kelly Foster. Those schools are expected to achieve their college and career ready targets by the time the Department releases its next annual Priority School report late this fall.

More good news is that three Priority Schools have or will become "Hub Schools" that help struggling so-called "Focus Schools" in their region improve by sharing their best practices with those schools. Franklin-Simpson High School and Pulaski County High School--which had been two of the lowest-achieving schools in Kentucky-are two Priority Schools designated by the Department in 2013 as hubs, and Foster said East Carter County High School will join them as a Hub School during the 2014-15 school year.

(There were around 300 Focus Schools in the state during the 2011-12 school year, according to the Department. They are described in a KDE press release as those "schools with the greatest overall achievement gaps or a particular student group with a large gap and or high schools with a graduation rate below 60 percent for two consecutive years.")

Monitoring of Priority Schools also requires them to undergo a "diagnostic review" by a team of skilled experts, said Foster. Last spring, the state oversaw 19 leadership assessments and diagnostic reviews at Priority Schools and districts in Kentucky. Thirteen of the 19 schools and districts reviewed were found to have made progress, with three districts found to have regained what Foster called "leadership capacity." Those districts include Dayton Independent in Campbell County, Perry County Schools, and Lincoln County Schools.

When prompted by Committee Co-Chair Rep. Derrick Graham to explain what leadership capacity means, Foster described it as the capacity of a superintendent or his or her team -which includes school principals-to turnaround around a persistently low-achieving school. So-called state "recovery specialists" are sent to those districts and schools to help make a turnaround possible.

Helping with the turnaround is a Professional Growth and Effectiveness System which measures the effectiveness of teachers. Implemented fully this school year, this new evaluation system will monitor teachers through observation, student growth, professional growth, and other measures. The vision of PGES is to ultimately "have every student taught by an effective teacher and every school led by an effective principal," says the Department.

It is important to remember that progress takes time, possibly years. Franklin-Simpson High School and Pulaski County High School were first designated Priority Schools in 2012 and are still designated as Priority this fall, said Foster. Only when they have a graduation rate greater than 70 percent and rise above the bottom 5th percentile in overall school performance, as well as meeting other objectives, will they be able to leave Priority status behind. That won't be until after this school year "at the earliest." But at least things are looking up for those schools and their students.

You can learn more about Kentucky's Priority Schools, find a complete map of those 39 schools, and find more about PGES on the KDE web site at education.ky.gov. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that helping these schools reach their goals will help Kentucky's students, which in turn helps all our futures.

Please share your ideas with me by e-mailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You can also send me a letter addressed to: Rep. Brent Yonts, Capitol Annex, Rm. 366 A, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort Ky. 40601.

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