Stuart Middle School principal to be replaced following poor state leadership review

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The principal of Stuart Middle will no longer be able to lead the school after a state diagnostic review has determined she does not have the capacity to continue the school's turnaround efforts.  

Renee Bledsoe, who has been the principal at Stuart since 2013, could not immediately be reached for comment.  

Meanwhile, the diagnostic reviews conducted by the Kentucky Department of Education last fall at Westport Middle, Western Middle, Thomas Jefferson Middle and Olmsted Academy North found that principals at each of those schools do have the capacity to continue to lead those schools. 

State officials delivered the reports to Superintendent Donna Hargens and her staff on Tuesday.

The district has 30 days to appeal the decision, if that is something the school board decides it wants to do.

Stuart was identified as a persistently low-performing school in 2011.

According to Stuart's diagnostic review:

  • Although Stuart Middle School has received abundant training, resources and support from both the district and the Kentucky Department of Education over a multi-year period, limited evidence exists of systemic continuous improvements
  • Artifacts and documents revealed a lack of parental involvement in decision making and planning
  • Interviews and survey data also suggested that the school leadership team has not been effective in ensuring the implementation of effective instructional strategies
  • Professional development opportunities have been ineffective in improving classroom instruction and have had little to no impact on student academic performance

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.

Priority schools are required to receive a diagnostic review every two years and are completed by a team of current and former educators, parents and others trained in the process.

Of the four reviews, Westport Middle School was the only other school (aside from Stuart) to receive much criticism.

Even still, the conclusion stated “the 2015 Diagnostic Review Team agreed with the school that all three existing Improvement Priorities have been partially addressed.”

One major point of emphasis was in the school’s review process:

“Although classroom walkthroughs currently occur, feedback generally is not provided as a way to improve instructional practices. Interviews with staff and faculty revealed an awareness that the school needs a more systematic classroom walkthrough process as work towards developing a more effective and impactful process is ongoing.”

Overall, the review stated, the school leadership, in particular the principal, possessed a cohesive, systematic, and comprehensive vision of how to move the school forward.

Western Middle School received a positive review, noting “continuous improvement” that has continued since the school was ranked as one of the lowest performing schools in the state in 2009.

“The resiliency of the administrators, teachers, parents, and staff during the past five years and their capacity to maintain focus in spite of the significant changes the school has experienced since July 2009.”

Thomas Jefferson Middle School also received a positive review, with the conclusion stating the school “has powerful systems in place to induct, mentor and support all teachers. The school's leadership and staff commit to a culture that is based on shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning.”

Over the past five years, 21 schools in Jefferson County 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.

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens issued this statement Tuesday night:

The KDE leadership diagnostic assessments that JCPS received today highlighted a great deal of progress in each of the five schools reviewed. For example, the diagnostic team called Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s system of mentoring and inducting new teachers a powerful practice, commended Western Middle School’s efforts to ensure each student has an adult advocate who supports that student’s educational experience, and noted that classroom observations at Westport Middle School revealed that teachers work “exceptionally hard” to provide students with a great education. The Professional Learning Community at Olmsted North was recognized for its positive impact, and KDE said the teachers at Stuart Middle truly have begun to work collaboratively using data to improve student performance.

Unfortunately, the principal at Stuart Middle School was found not to have capacity to continue leading Stuart's exit from priority status, although the diagnostic team did say that the Stuart SBDM has the capacity to continue its role and responsibilities. Stuart remains committed to its students. 

Each assessment provides areas to work on moving forward, and each school will use the valuable information and feedback from KDE to continuing improving student achievement so these schools can exit priority status. I join parents, teachers, principals and central office staff in congratulating these schools on their successes and supporting them as they continue the hard work that remains.

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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