LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Three schools in Jefferson County that have been among the lowest performing in Kentucky may be able to shed the stigmatizing label of “priority school,” depending on how students fare on the next round of state tests later this spring.

Knight Middle School, Valley High School and the Academy @ Shawnee have each met their annual goals for the last two years and are on track to no longer be labeled a “persistently low-achieving” school. according to a update that will be given to the Jefferson County Board of Education on Tuesday, when it meets at Waggener High School.

The report will discuss the current 19 schools in priority status, the schools identified as potentially entering priority status and the key components of the improvement plans for exiting priority status.

Marco Munoz, the district's priority schools director, will also give board members a mid-year update on priority school progress on accountability-related measures.

Schools are 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.

Over the past five years, 21 schools in Jefferson County have been identified as priority schools for having chronically low test scores.

During that time, the district has received more than $38 million in federal grant money to help turn them around. Only two schools -- Waggener High and Fern Creek High -- have exited priority school status.

Under the law, the range of interventions the district can choose from include: replacing the principal and site-based decision-making council, replacing more than half the faculty, closing the school and transferring its students to higher-performing schools or restarting the schools under the management of a private or nonprofit operator.

In December, school board chairman David Jones Jr. told fellow board members he thinks the district should explore the "external management organization" option when it comes to helping its priority schools.

He said that with three more schools (Roosevelt-Perry Elementary, Byck Elementary and Moore Traditional Middle) entering priority school status this year, now is the time to explore something different.

If JCPS were to choose the external management option, the district would have to choose from a list of EMO providers that have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education.

None of Kentucky's priority schools have chosen the external management option as the way to overhaul their schools, said Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

In 2011, previous JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman brought up the idea of examining the option of turning Knight Middle School over to an outside agency, but no school board members were interested at the time. Berman estimated it would cost $1 million a year.

The turnaround effort remains a work in progress at each of the district's priority schools. Recent test scores show that math and reading proficiency levels at the schools are still well below the state average.


Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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