JCPS hosting first ever institute for teachers new to priority schools

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Hank Rothrock remembers when he first arrived as a new teacher to Stuart Middle School four years ago.

The school was first designated as a "priority school” in 2013 due to low student achievement on standardized tests, but the school has also been plagued with high teacher turnover for years. 

"You walk into school the first day, you are thinking about lesson plans, you’re thinking about I’m going to teach English, I’m going to teach math but really you have to teach kids the right things to do and how to act," said Rothrock who will serve as a team leader at Stuart, which is the focus of a major overhaul this year. "You’re not ready for some of the behaviors and a lot of our new teachers don’t know how to respond or work through that."

In an effort to provide better support for teachers who will be new to one of Jefferson County's 18 priority schools when school resumes Aug. 10, officials are holding a two-day Priority Teacher Institute at Southern High School on Thursday and Friday. 

"Our goal is to provide these teachers with the knowledge and tools for them to use on their first day in the classroom," said Marco Munoz, the district's director of priority schools.

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.

So far, 146 teachers have signed up for the institute, which was designed by teachers like Rothrock who have taught or are teaching in one of the district's priority schools, which include Doss, Fairdale, Iroquois, Seneca, Southern, Shawnee, Valley and Western high schools; Knight, Moore, Olmsted North, Stuart, Thomas Jefferson, Valley Prep, Western and Westport middle schools and Byck and Roosevelt Perry elementary schools.

"I think this will be a really great resource," Rothrock said. "It's something I wish I had when I first starting teaching here."

Aaron Wisman spent four years working at Doss High School before becoming an education recovery specialist with the Kentucky Department of Education, where his job is to help provide support to the state's priority schools.

"Being a teacher is hard enough, but teaching in a priority school presents an even bigger challenge," Wisman said. "When I first arrived as a new teacher to a priority school, there was no differentiation between priority school teachers and non-priority teachers. It was the same orientation."

"We hope to provide a network so that these teachers will have a better support structure," Wisman said.

According to data from the district, 15,200 students attend one of 18 priority schools in JCPS:

  • 95 percent of elementary students who attend the district's two elementary schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 72 percent of students who attend non-priority elementary schools
  • 78 percent of students who attend one of the district's priority middle schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 63 percent of those in non-priority middle schools
  • 78 percent of students who attend one of the district's priority high schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch, compared to 51 percent of students in non-priority high schools

In addition to serving a large percentage of students who come from poverty, Munoz says the district's priority schools have a higher student mobility rate, meaning that a large number of students withdraw from one school and re-enroll at another school throughout the year. Priority schools also have a higher number of students who are habitually truant.

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 revamp the schools. Only two -- Waggener High and Fern Creek High -- have exited priority school status.

Munoz says some of the teachers attending the institute are not necessarily new to teaching, but will be new to teaching at one of the district's priority schools this fall. 

"We are going to show these new teachers that it can be done, that we can have success at these schools," Munoz said.

The institute will take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Southern High School on Thursday and Friday. Teachers who attend the institute have the option of receiving up to 12 professional development hours or up to 12 hours of a paid stipend.

Munoz says teachers can still register for the institute by going to this website, but noted that space is limited. He also said that teachers may choose to attend both days or just one day.

Funding for the institute is being providing through a summer learning grant from the Kentucky Department of Education.

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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.

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