Bryan Station High School —Lexington's only school with a persistent low-achieving label — is improving, but "deficiencies place the sustainability of the school's improvement efforts in grave jeopardy," according to an audit from the state education department.
The 80-page report, publicly released this week, highlights several problems at the school. The report said instruction in most classes remains "low-level" and "unengaging," teachers tolerate disruptive behavior and the principal is not holding the staff accountable for student achievement. State auditors said district officials have not done enough to help turn around Bryan Station.
However, the report said Mike Henderson, who took over as Bryan Station principal in July 2011, has the ability to lead and should remain as principal.
"I take responsibility for the results," Henderson said Friday.
He said the school had made major improvements, and he noted that the report pointed out that he has a good vision for the school, cares about kids, and has the right ideas about "where we need to go as a staff team." But the report said he's not monitoring classrooms and making sure the right kind of instruction happens on a regular basis.
"The review team has given me some great feedback on what I need to do as a leader," he said. "I set an example of what I expect every day, but I have not been in the classrooms as much as I want to be. It's more than setting an example — you have to live and breathe what you believe."
Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said he agreed with auditors' assessment that Henderson should continue to lead, and Shelton is "very encouraged by the growth we're seeing at Bryan Station High School under Mr. Henderson's leadership."
The superintendent said the district would provide Bryan Station more support.
Since fall 2011, state education officials have classified Bryan Station as a persistently low-achieving school, and placed it among 39 "priority schools" in Kentucky that hadn't met adequate measures of success.
Priority schools are required to receive a review every two years.
James Brown, a Bryan Station parent who is on the school's site-based decision making council, said he thought staff members at Bryan Station were making gains. He also said Henderson was doing a good job and thinks student behavior has improved.
"Can they still make more gains and can there still be more improvement? My answer to that is yes," Brown said.
Assessing the issues
The report was completed following a three-day assessment in February by a 10-member team of practitioners, teachers, and college or university educators.
The assessment, which also included surveys of Bryan Station staff, students, and parents, gauged school effectiveness, reviewing academic performance, learning environment and efficiency within each school.
The report says Bryan Station High School has enjoyed a rapid increase in student achievement over the last two years, rising to the 41st percentile in statewide rankings. The school had previously been in the bottom 5 percent, Kentucky Department of Education Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster said.
The report said the school is improving in almost every measure of student performance, and the principal has brought a renewed and enthusiastic emphasis on preparing students for college and careers.
Bryan Station has a "variety of unique and exciting" programs — including Spanish Immersion, the Information Technology Academy, and the StationARTS magnet program — that attract students from across the district, adding to the school's diversity, public reputation and overall performance, the report noted.
Besides an emphasis on college and career readiness, the report said the principal has instituted an intervention program that offers remedial support for students who are not meeting benchmarks. Budgeting and allocation of resources has become better organized and more transparent. Student discipline has dramatically improved in recent years, the report said.
However, despite the gains, "vast percentages of students at Bryan Station still have not reached proficiency" on state standardized tests, the report said.
The state's 2012-13 "report card" for Bryan Station High showed that only 28.3 percent of students at the school scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics. And 21.7 percent of black students, 20.5 percent of Hispanic students and 22.5 percent of students receiving free and reduced price meals scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics.
Additionally, the report said the following:
■ Classroom observations suggest that instruction in most classes remains low-level, unengaging, and highly teacher-centered.
■ Many teachers tolerate perpetually disruptive, off-task, and sometimes severe student behaviors.
■ The principal has failed to establish any meaningful mechanisms to hold all staff accountable for improving their practice to promote higher levels of student achievement.
■ Administrators at the school conduct virtually no unannounced classroom visits for monitoring and evaluating instruction.
■ No structures exist to hold teachers accountable for enforcing school-wide disciplinary procedures.
■ The "administrative team lacks a unified vision."
The principal not holding staff accountable for improving was listed as possibly the "greatest concern." The report said "these deficiencies place the sustainability of the school's improvement efforts in grave jeopardy."
Henderson said the school's instructional leadership team has to find a way to ensure that every classroom is a place where learning is exciting and individualized.
"Our teachers have been working hard, and we have started the right initiatives," he said. "Many of our teachers have embraced the innovative instructional techniques we are trying to embed in our practice. However, we still have too much of what I would call 'traditional teaching' going on in the building."
Henderson said the staff is more aware of areas where improvement is needed.
Looking at the district
The state also conducted a review of the Fayette County school district in regard to how it has addressed deficiencies at Bryan Station High. Each school district in Kentucky with a priority school is required to have a diagnostic review.
That review found that district leaders had not put an intentional focus on supporting Bryan Station High School in its turnaround efforts. The state's team will conduct another assessment in 2015 to ensure that district leaders are adequately supporting Bryan Station, the review said.
Bryan Station PTSA President Sherri Ball said she thinks it's "very true" that district leaders could support Bryan Station more. Ball praised Henderson.
"I think Mike Henderson has provided incredible leadership. I think he really has turned the school around," Ball said.
Generally speaking, Ball said, "I don't think Bryan Station often gets a fair shake."
Ball said the media is quicker to jump on the school's problems in comparison with other high schools.
Sixty-six percent of Bryan Station High's students received free or reduced lunch as of September 2013, according to data provided by the district.
"It's a segment of the population that most needs attention, and they are not getting it," Ball said.
Foster, the associate commissioner, said she hopes Fayette district leaders "provide additional support for the turnaround efforts at Bryan Station High School."
It can take three to five years to turn around a high school, Foster said, noting that Bryan Station leaders should have a clear mission and vision that focuses on increasing student achievement.
Foster said she was concerned about the areas in which Bryan Station "hadn't seen improvement,'' but she said in most cases such improvements are carried out in stages.
Foster said that "with intentional focus, they can continue to improve."
Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said Fayette County Public Schools officials have 30 days to appeal any of the findings in the two reports.
Shelton said there won't be an appeal. He said his leadership team will review the findings and "see where we can plug in additional supports and resources for Mr. Henderson and his staff."
"We share the responsibility for helping all students succeed, and we don't want the Bryan Station High School staff to feel like they're on their own," he said.
Moving forward, Henderson said his team will be making more visits to classrooms to evaluate the instruction and engagement.
"We need to make sure we're providing outstanding instruction right up to the last bell on June 6," he said.