State: Southern High makes improvements in collaboration, culture

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More teachers are collaborating with one another and the culture within Southern High School seems to be improving, according to the results of a state audit made available on Monday.

But the Kentucky Department of Education's two-day review conducted in December also notes that the school, located in Okolona, continues to struggle with raising achievement and ensuring that all students have "equal opportunities to learn in a culture of high expectations."

Southern High received a 2.08 out of 4 from the KDE team on how well the school's curriculum, instructional design and assessment practices are guiding student learning and teacher effectiveness. It added the school has only "partially addressed" the only improvement priority identified in it's previous review, which relates to having high expectations for students.

"Southern continues to show progress,” said Marco Munoz, director of priority schools for Jefferson County Public Schools. “There is always room for growth in the instructional process, and I think this report clearly shows that Southern has the leadership and dedication of staff to make that happen.” 

The team noted that the percentage of Southern High students scoring proficient on English, math, biology, writing and language mechanics tests increased over the past year and that the percentage of students meeting the benchmark in math on the ACT increased from the 2013-14 school year to the 2014-15 school year by 3.5 points.

And while the school met its annual performance objective in 2015-16, the review team pointed out that Southern did not meet its goal in 2014-15 -- and did not meet its graduation rate goal for either year.

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Jefferson County Public Schools, said when the KDE review team met privately with school officials, they said that Southern has an "uplifting, role-modeling culture where students see teachers and staff as mentors, leading to positive growth."

Superintendent Donna Hargens says that environment "will help Southern build on its progress as it strives to continue moving forward.”

Bryce Hibbard, the school's principal, noted Southern's theme of 'Our House" that is "evident to visitors to our school, including the audit team" nothing that the team gave them "high marks for school culture, great relationships, teachers that care and respectful students."

"We are proud of the work being done at Southern and remain focused on continuous improvement so that students have opportunities to be successful," Hibbard said in a statement.

The review is required every two years for schools in priority status, which are schools that are identified by the state as being in the bottom when it comes to meeting objectives for students.

Knight, Fairdale High and Southern were each given two-day progress monitoring visits this year, while Doss, Seneca and Iroquois high schools received more intense three-day leadership assessments, which will include a recommendation on whether the schools' principal have the ability to lead turnaround efforts, or if they should be removed.

Knight Middle School received their report last week, while Fairdale's review was released in December.

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