LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Department of Education released its diagnostic review of Jefferson County Public Schools on Friday, determining that the district and its leadership team has the capacity to manage the intervention of the district’s 18 priority schools.

State officials conducted the review last month following the completion of school-level diagnostic reviews in at nine of the district's 18 priority schools: Byck Elementary, Roosevelt Perry Elementary, Moore Traditional Middle, Olmstead Academy North, Stuart Middle, Academy @Shawnee, Thomas Jefferson Middle, Western Middle and Westport Middle.

The review team examined data from 245 classrooms and surveys administered at the nine schools, as well as student performance data, In addition, 68 interviews were conducted with all seven members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, Superintendent Donna Hargens, senior leadership and five area assistant superintendents.

"The diagnostic review indicated that the district engaged in a reorganization process to better serve schools," wrote Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt in a letter to Hargens, noting that the team identified "improvement priorities that district leadership must incorporate into the district comprehensive improvement plan."

"Specific attention must be focused on developing a culture of differentiated support and accountability for all Jefferson County Schools, but especially the priority schools," Pruitt said. "This should include a laser-like focus on closing the achievement gap and providing effective professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators."

Priority schools are those that haven’t met annual goals for three consecutive years and whose overall performance – as measured mostly by test scores -- places them in the bottom 5 percent of the state. To shed the label, they must show three consecutive years of meeting goals and climb out from the bottom 5 percent.

The 42-page report was delivered to Hargens and her leadership team Friday morning.

"I appreciate the guidance and feedback provided by the KDE Diagnostic Review Team,” Hargens said in a prepared statement.  “The report acknowledges the strategic deployment of resources and support by the district to our priority schools, and it gives us a road map on how to continue improving the teaching and learning that is going on every day in our classrooms.”

The report determined that JCPS has engaged in a systematic approach to improve achievement at priority schools in the district by reorganizing district staff to better serve schools. 

The review team also noted the district established a new director of priority schools to help monitor implementation of interventions to better support students, faculty and administrators.

In addition, the team noted the Jefferson County Board of Education’s adoption of a new strategic plan, Vision 2020, to help guide the district in aligning resources to improve student achievement and developing policies to provide optimal learning experiences for all students.

The report also cited areas of improvement for the district, including:

  • recruitment and retention of teachers in priority schools
  • increased differentiated instruction for students
  • more collaborative learning in classrooms
  • a systematic monitoring system to ensure improvement strategies are being implemented consistently at all priority schools. 

The review team also suggested increasing access to technology for learning in the classrooms.

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.

Under the law, the range of interventions the school board 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.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.