LOUISVILLE — Six low-performing schools in Louisville will see as much as 60 percent of the faculty and, in some cases, the principals replaced by this fall.
The Courier-Journal reported the radical overhaul, which encompasses 120 teachers, is part of an effort to comply with a federal mandate tied to funding. But some school officials say the schools have undeserved reputations, and experts say huge staffing changes alone will not guarantee student improvement.
"Personnel is important, but it's only part of the puzzle. What are they doing to change the other fundamental aspects of the school?" asked Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing educational excellence in American schools. "No one should assume that this alone is going to solve the problem."
State education auditors earlier this spring visited the 10 schools identified as the lowest-performing schools in Kentucky, including the six Louisville schools.
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In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced Kentucky would receive nearly $56 million through a federal school improvement grant program to fix its persistently low-achieving schools.
To get any of the money, school districts must apply for the funding and indicate how they are going to fix the faulty school, choosing one of several options that include closing the school, converting it to a charter school and replacing the principal, curriculum and staff.
On multiple occasions, Superintendent Sheldon Berman has said he doesn't believe restaffing the six schools is the best way to fix them, but he said the district doesn't have many options.
"We had to choose the method that will give us the most leverage," he said. "And in many ways, this method was the least disruptive to students, staff and the instructional program at each of the schools."
Among the auditors' findings: There is little communication between high schools and middle schools regarding curriculum, something the high school principal is supposed to encourage to help ensure a smooth transition for students.
Berman generally agreed: "There really isn't significant communication between eighth- and ninth-grade teachers, and we are going to work on improving that."
Combined with the other restructuring efforts the district has put into place at the schools in the past few years, such as magnet programs and freshmen academies, he's confident the restaffing will help turn those schools around.
"Since 2007, the high schools have put into place a number of important changes in literacy, math, science and social studies curriculum," Berman said.
Principals at the six schools dispute many of the findings in the audits.
"I was dinged on so many things that I don't have any control over," said Beth Johnson, who is resigning at the end of the year as principal at Western Middle.
Tori Clements, a freshman at Fern Creek, said she disagrees with what auditors said about her school. But she said students at Fern Creek are ready to turn the negative attention into something positive.
"It makes us want to work extra hard to show (the auditors) that they are wrong about us and they are wrong about our school," she said.
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the group supports the plan to restaff the schools, but he also criticized the audit findings for making the teachers scapegoats.
"There are all sorts of reasons why these kids are not performing well," McKim said.
Diane Adams, an English teacher at Fern Creek, said blaming the teachers is an easy out.
"I think sometimes it's easier to blame teachers than it is to ask students to step up and take responsibility for their own learning," she said.
The district will look for existing teachers interested in joining the troubled schools or hire new instructors.
But to receive the federal school improvement funds, the district must select teachers that "have the skill and expertise to be effective."
"We're going to do the best we can to get these schools the very best teachers and principals," Berman said.