Report: JCPS middle school turnaround efforts have been 'challen - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Report: JCPS middle school turnaround efforts have been 'challenging'

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Valley Prep Academy classroom in January 2015 (WDRB file photo) Valley Prep Academy classroom in January 2015 (WDRB file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Turnaround efforts at Jefferson County’s eight chronically low-performing middle schools have presented ‘unique challenges’ when it comes to improving academic achievement and increasing student growth.

A report on the district’s recent efforts at improving performance at the middle school level will be shared with the Jefferson County Board of Education during a 5 p.m. work session on Tuesday.

Seven of the schools – Knight Middle, Moore Middle, Olmsted Academy North, Stuart Middle, Thomas Jefferson Middle, Western Middle and Westport Middle – continue to lag behind and struggle, although recent gains at Knight could be enough for the school to exit priority status this year.

The eighth school – formerly called Frost Middle – now consists of two separate programs as part of the district’s efforts to turn them around. One is the Sixth Grade Academy that is housed at Frost, while the other is Valley Prep Academy, a seventh and eighth grade program housed at Valley High School.

Both district and state officials will be on hand Tuesday to discuss “new, research-based approaches to middle school turnaround” that could soon be implemented in JCPS, according to the agenda set by Superintendent Donna Hargens.

However, details of those approaches will not be shared before the school board meeting, according to Allison Martin, a JCPS spokeswoman.

“We are not doing interviews in advance of the board work meeting,” Martin told WDRB on Monday.

In addition, Faith Stroud, principal of the Frost Sixth Grade Academy, declined a visit by WDRB on Monday to talk about her school’s turnaround efforts.

“The district will be providing a middle school progress report to the board tomorrow night, and it would be premature to comment publicly before that briefing takes place,” Martin said.

Attached to the work session agenda is a PDF report about the Carter G. Woodson Academy in Fayette County.

Martin says "Carter G. Woodson is a middle school concept that's been successful in Fayette County," she said. "The information on its success is being provided to the board."

Here is a look at 2014-15 test scores at each of the district's low-performing middle schools:

  • Frost Sixth Grade Academy: 19 percent were proficient in reading, 13 percent were proficient in math, 18 percent were proficient in writing
  • Knight Middle: 29 percent were proficient in reading, 17 percent were proficient in math, 31 percent were proficient in social studies, 11 percent were proficient in writing
  • Moore Middle: 35 percent were proficient in reading, 22 percent were proficient in math, 33 percent were proficient in social studies, 10 percent were proficient in writing
  • Olmsted Academy North: 19 percent were proficient in reading, 14 percent were proficient in math, 33 percent were proficient in social studies, 7 percent were proficient in writing
  • Stuart Middle: 24 percent were proficient in reading, 14 percent were proficient in math, 19 percent were proficient in social studies, 8 percent were proficient in writing
  • Thomas Jefferson Middle: 23 percent were proficient in reading, 21 percent were proficient in math, 25 percent were proficient in social studies, 8 percent were proficient in writing
  • Western Middle: 44 percent were proficient in reading, 25 percent were proficient in math, 44 percent were proficient in social studies, 11 percent were proficient in writing
  • Westport Middle: 34 percent were proficient in reading, 28 percent were proficient in math, 34 percent were proficient in social studies, 10 percent were proficient in writing
  • Valley Prep Middle: 19 percent were proficient in reading, 6 percent were proficient in math, 17 percent were proficient in social studies, 6 percent were proficient in writing

Also at Tuesday's meeting, Debbie Powers, an educational recovery director with the Kentucky Department of Education, will talk about lessons the state has learned from turnaround efforts at both the middle and high school level.

“Turnaround work is difficult, but we do see gains being made both in the central region of Kentucky and across the Commonwealth,” Powers says in a four-page report that she will discuss Tuesday. “We see high schools exiting priority status; however, we see underperformance at the middle school level.”

Powers notes that aside from one other middle school on a combined campus in the Dayton Independent school system, all priority middle schools in Kentucky are found in JCPS.

“Middle school is ‘tough teaching’ without all of the complicating factors an urban school setting such as JCPS entails, thus it is essential to establish a comprehensive framework of support aimed at both students and teachers,” she says.

Powers said the "essential component of school turnaround work is the establishment of systems to support all facets of teaching and learning."

"The end goal should be high functioning systems supporting teaching, learning, leadership, student services and resource allocation," Powers says. "It is the monitoring, evaluation and revision of the work that leads to the turnaround non-negotiable of continuous school improvement."

Students in JCPS priority schools exhibit the full range of academic success -- from distinguished to novice and all points in between, Powers says.

"These student populations also exhibit challenging emotional and social needs that seem to be in greater concentration in priority schools," she added. 

In addition, district data indicates that teachers in priority schools in Jefferson County have less experience in the profession than their colleagues in non-priority schools and that they leave their assigned priority schools in greater number and with greater frequency than their non-priority colleagues.

Powers says JCPS must acknowledge it's "essential to support teachers in priority schools in different ways than we have previously supported teachers."

"Inexperienced teachers, especially those in priority schools, necessitate frequent support from more experienced colleagues," Powers says.

Lastly, Powers says the success of school turnaround and continuous school improvement "rests solely on the shoulders of building level leadership."

"The new landscape in education requires a distributed leadership model with a lead principal and assistant principals educated and equipped to meet the demands of priority school work," Powers said.

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.

The interventions 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.

Over the past five years, 21 schools in JCPS 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.

Overall, there are 36 priority schools in Kentucky.

Tuesday's JCPS update to its board on its priority middle schools is just a work session. No vote is planned.

The board will also hold a 4 p.m. work session that will provide an update from its magnet steering committee.

At it's 7 p.m. mtg, the board will hear an update from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on the work within the Cradle to Career initiative and highlight new opportunities to make the Cradle to Career pipeline more seamless and improve outcomes for all students.

In addition, the board is expected to approve a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jefferson County Education Foundation, which outlines specific commitments and responsibilities of both the foundation and the district to ensure that a proper public educational purpose is served by their relationship and collaboration.

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

Copyright 2016 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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