Superintendent Karen Hatter described the improvement in Lincoln's ACT performance as "spectacular," and credited a proactive approach following the high school's PLA designation with helping the school and district to turn things around even before state-initiated changes began to take effect.
"We didn't just sit still during that time," she said.
Hatter said once Lincoln County knew it had been designated as a PLA school, leaders began implementing changes they knew the state had required for other schools that had received the PLA designation.
The district hired former Danville High School Principal Win Smith, who had guided Danville up from similarly low performance numbers, as a leadership coach for the high school, Hatter said.
And the high school and two of the district's lowest-performing elementary schools began self-studies, determining where the schools were at and what needed to improve.
Lincoln School Board Chairman Jim Kelley agreed getting ahead of the PLA designation and taking action before the state required it helped improve ACT scores.
Kelley said he also thinks the school will see a marked rise in college- and career-readiness from its previous level of 31 percent, but the new scores on that assessment haven't been released yet.
While the improved ACT scores bring Lincoln County more in line with student performance around the state, Kelley said the district can't stop there.
"At this point, we can't settle for average," he said. "We've got to do better than that."
As part of Lincoln's PLA designation, an audit team visited the high school and district for a week in February, releasing a report of its findings in March.
Those findings listed many areas where the audit team believed the district and high school were falling short, including in the areas of communication, student-performance-focused spending and monitoring success.
Hatter said there was a lot in the report that was tough to read.
"Accepting what it had to say was not different from going through a grieving process for me," she said. "Even though I had only been in the position for less than a year, I still took it personally."
Now, as the new school year starts, Godbey said the high school will be using what's known as a "30/60/90-day plan." The plan focuses on how the school can be improved and is constantly being revised and re-examined every 30 days.
At the end of every quarter, Lincoln County High School will turn in an extensive report to the school commissioner, including data collected at all levels from all around the school, and the commissioner will review the report and compare its information to the school's 30/60/90 plan.
Godbey said one of the most important things to him is getting students to buy into the concept of "grade 13" — the idea that the better they do in school now, the more prepared they will be for whatever comes next, whether its college, technical school or a job.
One way the high school is encouraging students to do well is through recognition programs.
Godbey said a prominent new board in the main entrance area of the high school that displays the names of the students with the highest ACT scores has inspired many freshmen and sophomores to tell him their goals are to get their names on the display.
Public recognition of achievement is often a far better motivator than direct rewards like pizza parties, which is a route that used to be taken at the high school, Godbey said.
Godbey said something else helping students embrace learning is the switch away from the Kentucky Core Content Test.
Previously, students and schools were assessed by the KCCT, even though employers and colleges didn't really care about it. That made it hard for students to take the test seriously, Godbey said.
Godbey believes one of the reasons Lincoln was designated as a PLA school in the first place was because of the KCCT.
He said even before the PLA designation, he had been working on initiatives like increasing math and English class time for students and getting teachers to help each other develop professionally.
Godbey said those improvements are partially responsible for improving ACT scores, which has been a main goal of his all along.
"As a dad there is one test I want my kids to do well on and that is the ACT," he said.
Now that the KCCT is going away and Lincoln can focus on career-readiness and the ACT — which colleges do use in admissions — students can buy in and take an interest in performing well, Godbey said.
Another factor Godbey believes led to the initial PLA designation is a lack of continuity in leadership at the high school. His first year as principal, he was the fourth principal in as many years for graduating seniors, he said.
This year, graduating seniors had only seen one man — Godbey — in the principal's office for their entire high school careers.
Godbey credited seniors at graduation in May with helping to "right the ship" through improved ACT performance and much-improved college- and career-readiness.
Another way Lincoln is looking to improve its scholastic performance is through curriculum upgrades throughout the district, including the new SpringBoard program.
SpringBoard Trainer Kelley Houghton led a group of Lincoln County teachers through the curriculum during a day-long workshop July 24.
Houghton said the SpringBoard program, which is the official pre-AP program, is designed to give students a fluid education, where what they learn at one level leads into what they learn at the next.
In addition, teachers study what students are learning and know what's happening at every level, not just in their own classrooms.
That "vertical articulation" is part of how SpringBoard generates results, Houghton said.
"It makes for a much more cohesive, integrated teaching experience for the students," she said.
Hatter said SpringBoard has done great things for other schools, but through the PLA turn-around process, new training for administrators and district employees has taught her that demanding evidence of student improvement is essential.
"There is evidence there that it is a great program," she said. "But we'll be looking for the data (in Lincoln County) now."
That need for continual assessment and re-assessment was echoed by Board Chairman Kelley.
"I think sometimes in the past, we've been more interested in pleasing adults than doing our jobs and taking care of students," he said. "So now, when they ask for money in a certain area, we ask, 'how is this going to affect student achievement?"
Godbey said behind all the changes and plans, there has to be an urgent, focused attitude among everyone in his school that students need to be served better.
"What we have to develop here is a sense of urgency. It's not panic — there's a difference. It's urgency wrapped in hope. We're moving quickly, we're moving intently," he said. "I feel like that has to be the prevalent attitude we have to have in the building."
Godbey said he thinks it took time for Lincoln to fall to PLA status, and it will take time to dig out of the hole, too.
"I don't think we got there overnight," he said. "It's been a progression. And I don't think we'll get out of it overnight."
But looking forward, Godbey is highly optimistic about where he believes Lincoln County can go. He wants to hold his high school to a similar standard basketball fans hold the Kentucky Wildcats — he wants it ranked in the top 25.
"I probably shouldn't say that but I do want the community to know that's what we're shooting for," he said. "It's a sin if (the Wildcats) fall out of the top 25. So I'm trying to use that same mentality — that's where we want to be. We want to be in the top 25 in the state."