Two of Whitley County’s three public school districts are now recognized as among the most elite in Kentucky, and the other had a setback after posting enormous gains last year, according to “report cards” recently released as part of Kentucky’s “Unbridled Learning” education accountability initiative.
The Corbin Independent School District and the Whitley County School District finished within in eyelash of one another in overall accountability index scores. Corbin had an overall score of 77.9. Whitley’s was 77.5.
But Whitley County Schools, the county’s largest school district, also made the biggest jump in its overall score — from 71.1 a year ago to 77.5 this time around, making it a “distinguished” district.
“While we certainly understand that test scores can never tell the full story of what is going on in our schools and classrooms, we are nonetheless pleased that for the third consecutive year our District is identified as distinguished,” said Scott Paul, Superintendent of Whitley County Schools. “We are also very excited that six schools are recognized as Schools of Distinction.”
As a district, Whitley County ranks 13th in the state.
Boston Elementary School, Oak Grove Elementary School, Pleasant View Elementary, Whitley Intermediate School, Whitley East Elementary and Whitley County Middle School were all named “schools of distinction,” meaning they made increases in the overall accountability index large enough to meet state-mandated progress goals, and also had adequate growth in performance on tests among subgroups like racial minorities, students with disabilities or students who receive free or reduced lunch.
Some of the schools made enormous leaps as far as their overall scores.
By the numbers:
• Boston Elementary increased from 62.7 to 83.8;
• Oak Grove Elementary increased from 62.7 to 82.5;
• Pleasant View Elementary increased from 64.0 to 77.3;
• Whitley County Intermediate increased from 69.7 to 81.4;
• Whitley East Elementary went from 70.8 to 85.3;
• Whitley County Middle School went from 74.1 to 75.0.
“The difference-maker in our schools is our staff, both our school level staff and our district instructional team led by our Chief Academic Officer, Paula Rickett.” Said Paula Trickett, Deputy Superintendent at Whitley County Schools. “Together they are the primary reason our students are enjoying such a high degree of success. Every day they show up and put our students’ needs first, ignoring the ever-present distractions and never letting the challenges many of our students face stand in their way. Our staff really is phenomenal.”
A couple of Whitley County’s schools did decline.
Whitley County High School took a small accountability index dive from 78.1 to 76.7, but is still considered “distinguished.”
Whitley North Elementary declined considerably from 79.1 to 65.7. It is now a school labeled as “needing improvement.”
The Corbin Independent School District held the distinction of being the highest ranked school district in the Tri-County area with an overall accountability score of 77.9, up 1.9 points from 76.0 a year ago.
The district earned the label “distinguished,” but Superintendent Dave Cox said that would almost certainly be upgraded to a “District of Distinction” since the state’s determination Corbin did not meet its graduation rate goal was in error.
“Almost two points is a significant jump for us,” Cox said. “The hill gets steeper the closer you get to the top. It’s a lot harder climb. It’s hard to find places to earn more points because there is just a very finite group of students we have that we can target right now to increase that number.”
Cox said right now, Corbin Schools are focusing on increasing “student engagement” and are training teachers in ways to better connect with students.
“If the students believe that those teachers care and that the teachers are working as hard as they are, then they will generally walk through fire for them,” Cox said. “They will use every second of time to take their tests and make sure to do their best.”
All of Corbin’s schools are considered “distinguished.”
• Corbin Elementary School jumped from 63.8 to 73.7;
• Corbin Intermediate School went from 67.3 to 75.0;
• Corbin Middle School stayed the same at 81.7;
• Corbin High School increased from 83.4 to 84.2.
Overall, the district is now ranked 8th in the state among K-12 schools.
Ramona Davis, Deputy Superintendent for the Corbin Independent School District, said administrators were overall “very pleased” with the results of the district report card. Now, she added, the focus is on very distinct subgroups of students and making sure they become more proficient in subject areas.
“We have very few students who are considered ‘novice’ in the Middle School, for instance,” Davis pointed out. “That’s a good problem to have, but having to reduce that number by 10 percent is difficult to do. You are talking about moving just a couple of students and most of them are truly novice students.”
Davis said school officials are always working to identify weaknesses among students in subject areas with different measures and testing data.
Cox said at the high school, increased ACT scores and a focus on making tests have more ACT-like questions really helped Corbin High School increase this time around.
“Student motivation plays a big role in our district,” Davis said. “We have great students and great parents who know this is important and they work together with our teachers. I think that’s very important.”
Williamsburg Independent Schools
Despite posting the biggest gain of any school district in the Kentucky a year ago, Williamsburg Independent Schools took a slide backward this time around — falling from a 70.2 overall accountability score to 65.8.
Since Williamsburg is essentially a single K-12 school, the district score represents the individual school score as well.
Amon Couch, who just took over as superintendent of the school district in July, said school system leaders have been working to put “processes and systems” in place that ensure students that are struggling get the help they need immediately.
“One of the things I’ve discovered as one of our issues is that we are not as systematic as we need to be,” Couch said. “If we are not performing in a particular area, we need to have interventions and supports that automatically kick into play.”
Couch said Williamsburg just recently purchased the MAP testing program — an indispensible tool many school districts have been using for years to track academic progress. MAP — which stands for “Measure of Academic Progress” — is a computer-based, K-12 assessment tool that provides students with a personalized experience because it adapts to each student’s learning level.
Couch said district-wide testing with MAP will be used three times a year to see if students are “on track” and where special effort needs to be focused.
The district as a whole has taken a much more aggressive approach toward improvement.
Couch noted that Williamsburg has secured a $60,000 federal grant to study how the school district uses its resources, and whether or not there are more efficient ways to manage the district.
“No district wants to fritter away its resources,” Couch said. “We want to make sure we are maximizing what we are doing.”
He noted that one advantage in a small school district is the ability to really have more personalized interaction with students to meet their specific needs. He said he’s hoping efforts to intervene early with students who are struggling in certain areas will pay dividends in the future.
“Our people here have high expectations, and I can assure you that no one has any higher expectations than I do. We are on the move,” Couch said. “I think people are excited about this vision for the district. But anytime you are addressing organizational needs, it doesn’t happen quickly. It will take a few years.”
“I think we have all the pieces in place to be a top 10 district. I think once we have some time to put this plan in place, you will see drastic results.”