About 400 Fleming high school students walk out in protest over state audit

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 7, 2014 

About 400 students walked out of Fleming County High School Wednesday in protest over a state audit recommending the principal be removed.

The Kentucky Board of Education's audit, released earlier this week, says Principal Mark Leet should be removed because of a lack of academic progress, but no decision has been made on whether Leet will return next fall.

The audit, which looked at the principal and the high school, said "the review team has determined that the principal does not have the ability to lead the intervention and should not remain as principal of Fleming County High School.''

Additionally, the audit said the principal and school council was not monitoring student achievement data, had not created a positive climate for teaching and learning or a culture of openness.

Members of the Fleming County Board of Education will have to decide within 30 days whether to appeal the audit. If they do, the appeals process will have to play out in the coming months.

"The department is saying he did not have the capacity to lead the turn around effort at that high school," Kentucky Department of Education Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster said. "We're not saying that he's a bad person or a bad principal, but that he doesn't have the capacity for what that school needs."

The Kentucky Department of Education designated Fleming County High School among 39 "priority schools'' that did not meet adequate measures of academic success. Priority schools are required to receive a management audit, or diagnostic review, every two years. Each school district in Kentucky with a priority school is required to have a diagnostic review as well.

Students took issue with those findings and walked out of school Wednesday morning, John Johnson, a junior said. The students returned to class after about an hour. There are about 600 students in the high school, officials said.

Johnson, who said he led Wednesday's student protest at the high school, said another review should be done.

"We feel like its an unfair decision to remove Mr. Leet," Johnson said. "He's done nothing wrong. He's done nothing but good in the school system."

But department of education officials also were critical of Fleming County Schools district leaders.

A second audit released this week said the school board and the superintendent could not lead the turnaround at Fleming County High School.

There continues to be a lack of clarity of expectations, among central office staff, an inequity of job responsibilities among staff, and a lack of transparent communication, the district review said.

Foster said it was up to the Fleming County School Board to decide about the superintendent's future.

Board Chair Mike Ishmael said he supported Superintendent Tom Price and the principal. He said Price was "more than capable of running any school district" and "as far as I'm concerned, I think they are doing the best they can with the finances that we have."

Before the audit was released, Price said he had planned to keep Leet on as principal next year. He said Wednesday that the board has not voted to appeal the audit, however, Ishmael said that he wants to appeal.

Price said ACT scores are on the rise at the high school, and the school is making strides in college and career readiness and graduation rates.

Leet said there is room for improvement, but the school was deemed "proficient" in the state's accountability system and was meeting benchmarks for academic success.

"We are definitely progressing ... It's like none of the things we are doing was taken into consideration," Leet said.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said department officials understand "this is an emotional issue and that Fleming County High school students, parents and school personnel are concerned about their school and district."

"While Fleming County High School did see improvement in its college- and career-readiness rate last year," Rodriguez said, "a deeper dive into the data shows its graduation rate increased due to a change in the way the rate was calculated."

Rodriguez said the achievement gap has widened, and the school lost ground from 2011-12 in the percentages of students who scored at the proficient/distinguished level in English II, Algebra II, Biology, writing, and language mechanics.

Additionally, Rodriguez said the financial situation in Fleming County schools is grave.

Since fall 2013, Fleming County has been one of two districts in Kentucky designated as being state-assisted, meaning the state education department is helping district officials implement a plan to correct financial deficiencies.

On May 1, state education commissioner Terry Holliday, citing the severity of the district's financial problems and the state's continuing oversight of the district, directed that seven teaching positions be cut and three teachers' stipends be trimmed to save nearly $350,000.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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