Monday night, the Lincoln County School District hosted a public forum to discuss the district’s progress toward meeting No Child Left Behind goals in general, and the high school’s status as a Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school. Many questions were raised by the 60 faculty and staff members and parents, but few were resolved.
Superintendent Karen Hatter broke the meeting into three parts: where we are, where we want to be and public comment. For the first part, Pam Hart, the district’s Director of Academics, gave an overview of standardized test results over the past decade which showed students through the 8th grade making steady improvement but high school performance making much slower progress and showing little progress in the last four years.
Hart told the audience that the real goal was ensuring that all students or college or career ready when they graduated, or as Hatter put it, “Ready for Grade 13.” Hart said that Grade 13 readiness is judged by how well students performed on the American College Testing (ACT) exam for college-bound students, the ASVAB for those heading to the military and the Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards Assessment (KOSSA) or industry certification for those students heading directly to the workforce. Last year, only 26 percent of the county’s 275 graduates were judged as “ready”; the state average is 42 percent.
When the discussion moved on to the third part, public comment, the first question was about accountability, with one parent asking who is responsible for making corrections, when deficiencies school performance are detected. Hatter said that principals are responsible for making corrections within their buildings, with the district serving an oversight and support function. Hatter said that Site Based Decision Making Councils are responsible for getting changes put into individual School Improvement Plans. A teacher and school-age child parent expressed doubt about whether changes were being implemented quickly enough to impact students already in the system saying, “We have all of these kids in high school now who are supposed to be college ready and, looking at the freshmen, I just can’t see it.”
Hatter was asked if she was surprised by the district’s overall poor performance, to which she responded, “No, but I was surprised by PLA for the high school.”
A retired teacher said, “We’ve been doing ‘school transformation’ since the late 90’s. Do you have an idea why it doesn’t work?” Hatter said that she felt that the high turnover rate of principals at the high school has been an impediment to progress. “We’ve had eight principals in 16 years; that is a barrier to improvement,” she said.
Another teacher suggested that class size and a lack of parent involvement was slowing progress, pointing out that she had student that suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that made it a challenge to teach a large class, but several parents of elementary students said they felt that their involvement was unwanted in the schools.
LCHS Principal Tim Godbey said that his school was dealing with the class size and diversity issue by skill grouping. “There are kids in some classes that don’t belong there,” he said. Godbey said that the high school is offering readiness classes to make up for math deficiencies and some teachers are offering after-school coaching for students.
As the meeting was winding down, Jessica Cornelius stood and made the most powerful statement of the night, saying, “I’m hearing from teachers that they have to spend have a year teaching students what they should already know. We are failing our children. We have to define the hurdles. I’m tired of programs; it’s time to get the books out and start teaching. Four years of math, science, history and reading.”
Hatter concluded the meeting by saying that the district would undergo a leadership assessment by the Kentucky Department of Education in February and asked that anyone who would like to comment during the evaluation leave a phone number where they could be reached.