Turnaround efforts at Fairdale High School applauded by state officials
Internal reviews conducted in January by the Kentucky Department of Education at Fairdale and two other priority schools in Jefferson County -- Waggener and Southern high schools -- were released last week and show all three schools have come a long way since they underwent major overhauls.
Debbie Powers, an educational recovery director with the Kentucky Department of Education, said the work being done at Fairdale should be applauded. The state's review noted that the school's 'Fundamental 5' initiative has "changed the culture of the school into one of continuous improvement for all."
"Fairdale has done incredibly well, they have gone from having four improvement priorities to only one," Powers said. "Their entire instructional program is remarkable. It was noted as a powerful practice and is receiving both regional and national attention."
Principal Brad Weston said it "hasn't been easy" since 2011-12 accountability results showed that only 3 out of every 10 students at Fairdale High could read, write, and do math on grade level.
"We felt like we were doing things pretty well, but we never expected to be in the bottom 5 percent in the state," he said. "It was a real wake-up call. We started looking at what we needed to do differently to make sure that this would not happen to us again."
All four of the school's previous deficiencies "could be tied in some way to instruction," Weston said.
"We began concentrating on research-based practices of effective instruction and how we could implement those practices more frequently in every classroom," he said. "We also started to observe classrooms more often."
Weston said he and his leadership team visit 48 classrooms daily. Last year, the team recorded 5,000 classroom visits.
"We call it instructional coaching," he said. "We provide them a snapshot of what they are doing and make a plan on how to get better. I tell teachers and students all the time, there are two things that we expect from them -- that you care and that you try."
Gregg Longacre, a 23-year teaching veteran and also a 1984 graduate of Fairdale, said he doesn't mind the daily observations.
"You know what? It holds you accountable to your job," said Longacre. "They make it pretty clear that they aren't there to criticize you, they are there to look at the whole school and see where we need to improve. I think the walk-throughs are very helpful."
Weston said the school also started giving teachers "data days" where they can work with other teachers on their team to look at student data.
"The data days are very helpful," said Elizabeth Clements, a freshman math teacher. "It gives us the time to talk about the goals we have for our kids and how we can get them there."
Longacre said Fairdale being classified as a persistently low achieving school was "disheartening."
"You want your school and community to be successful," Longacre said. "That knocked us for a loop, but I think it also made us recognize with state testing and accountability that all kids count. I think there was a time where we made excuses and we just can't do that anymore. Every kid who walks through the door is accountable now."
Weston agreed, adding that students have played a large role in the school's turnaround efforts.
"It was painful to go through and once you get over the hurt feelings and you start getting to work – we made a commitment to focus on things we can control," he said. "It's our practice as adults that's going to drive student achievement and performance."
The turnaround remains a work in progress at Fairdale.
Recent test scores show that nearly half of students are proficient in math, science and history, but that only 28 percent of students scored proficient on the English II end of course exam.
Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for Jefferson County Public Schools, said receiving that label of priority status can be a "blow to a school, but in the long run we see those schools tighten up."
Four other Jefferson County schools – Iroquois, Seneca and Doss high schools and Knight Middle School – had leadership assessments conducted by the state in January, but those results won't be released until March 6.
The seven schools were placed in “priority” status as a result of a 2010 law that called for the Kentucky Department of Education to identify the state's lowest-performing schools and outline a range of interventions aimed at turning them around.
The difference between the internal school reviews and the leadership assessments is that the internal review is shorter and focuses on one standard – teaching and learning – while the leadership assessments gauge school effectiveness, reviewing academic performance, learning environment and efficiency within each school.
Over the past five years, a total of 18 schools in Jefferson County have been identified as priority schools for having chronically low test scores. Overall, there are 36 priority schools in Kentucky.
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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