New Doss High School principal ready to make big changes to boost student achievement

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- He's only been on the job a week, but Marty Pollio isn't wasting any time as the new leader of Doss High School.

Despite several turnaround efforts and millions of dollars in assistance over the past decade, the school in southwestern Jefferson County has struggled with low test scores, impoverished students and high teacher turnover for years. 

"There is, without a doubt, a sense of urgency here at Doss," Pollio told WDRB News on Wednesday. "We have students who are not reaching their full potential and that is something that must be addressed immediately."

Pollio, who spent eight years as principal at Jeffersontown High School, was named the new principal of Doss on July 1. 

"The first course of action was to set up meetings and meet with every staff member," said Pollio, who is the third principal to lead Doss in five years. "It's extremely important to meet with people and get a sense of where we are and where we need to go as a school."

Pollio replaces Ken Moeller, who left Doss after a state leadership assessment determined he did not have the capacity to continue the school's turnaround efforts. Moeller has since been named the principal at the Phoenix School of Discovery, a specialty school for students who choose to opt out of a regular school setting.

RELATED | New principals take over at several JCPS schools for 2015-16 year

Doss was identified as a persistently low-achieving school by the Kentucky Department of Education in 2010 and has been the focus of restructuring efforts by officials in Jefferson County Public Schools.

According to most recent accountability results, Doss jumped from the 8th percentile in the state in 2013 to the 25th percentile in 2014. 

However, test scores at Doss remain well below the state average -- 38 percent of students scored proficient on the history exam, 29 percent scored proficient on English exam, 27 percent were proficient on the math exam and only 13 percent were proficient on the science exam.

"I have a real firm belief in the instructional plan that I will implement here at Doss," Pollio says. "And I want to see that instructional plan in every single classroom."

As Pollio talks, he ackowledges the dry-erase board hanging on his office wall that keeps a running list of teacher vacancies. With less than a month before the first day of school Aug 12, he needs to interview and hire three assistant principals and 10 more teachers.

"For whatever reason, teacher turnover has been high over the past few years," Pollio said. "It makes it very challenging and difficult to bring in new people every single year and not have year to year growth with the same staff. A big focus for me is getting people to stay here. That's a big culture issue that I will have to work on." 

Doss had three assistant principals last year and of that only one -- Meosha Williams -- will return. 

Brian Garrett was transferred to an assistant principal position at The Brown School and Clay Holbrook left to take a job at the Kentucky Department of Education. 

In addition, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens has given Pollio additional money to hire a fourth assistant principal at Doss -- a position he says will be used to provide extra support for teachers.

"The vast majority of teachers at Doss are fairly new to the profession," he said. "We have to be able to provide support for these new teachers so they can continue to grow."

Pollio said he is looking at every aspect of the school -- from class schedules and teacher planning periods to discipline and culture -- and will work with his team to implement changes. 

"I'm not one to make changes just for the sake of change," he said. "But there are changes that need to be made and I want teachers and students to to notice a difference when they walk in the door on the first day."

Pollio says another big goal is to improve the school's image.

Doss High School opened in 1967. It was built to relieve overcrowding from Butler, Fairdale, Western, Pleasure Ridge Park and Valley High Schools. Once a popular school in the south end of Louisville, student enrollment was dwindled in recent years. 

"Right now, a lot of students in this area are not choosing to go to Doss," Pollio said. "A big thing that I think is necessary is convincing people in this community that Doss is the school they want to go to. That comes by improving what we do each and every day."

PREVIOUS | Doss High School principal to be replaced after poor leadership assessment

PREVIOUS| Doss High, two other JCPS schools, awarded grants for combating hunger

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

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.