For the next three years, specialists from Fayette County Public Schools main office will likely be at the Lexington school that earned the state's lowest score among elementary schools "every single day, every week," said district Chief Academic Officer Lu Young.
The goal is to move William Wells Brown Elementary principal Jay Jones and his team "to self-sufficiency so they don't need us," Young said.
"We really believe as a new principal he really deserves the time to build his school, and we want to come alongside to help him do that," she said. "This is not about a takeover. This is not about a lack of confidence in Jay. In fact it's just the opposite."
Bill Farmer, president of the United Way of the Bluegrass, reached out to people in Lexington asking them to help the students, parents and teachers at William Wells Brown Elementary.
The United Way has committed to recruiting 400 volunteers so there will be one adult to work with each student.
Those were among the immediate reactions to the release Friday of statewide test scores that showed that William Wells Brown for the 2013-14 school year received the lowest score among elementary schools in Kentucky's testing and accountability program at 34.4 out of 100.
Young said she thought Jones, who became principal of the school on East Fifth Street in the fall of 2013, and his team had an "aggressive plan" to improve academic achievement and that district staff were going to support him.
District officials are asking Jones, "How can we lock arms with you and get this work done?" Young said.
Jones said when he took the job in the fall of 2013, he and his leadership team "knew we had some work to do."
Last spring, the school ranked in the bottom 10 elementary schools in the state when test scores were released. Many of the students have socio-economic challenges, with 93 percent of the students eligible for free and reduced price lunches.
Jones said he and his staff had some help from the district last year in an effort to raise test scores.
He implemented a reading program and saw gains in both math and reading scores. He made some staff changes over the summer. A stronger teacher force is working on improving daily lessons, he said.
"They are some of the hardest-working teachers in Fayette County," Jones said, adding that they have "a sense of urgency.
"They are committed to moving our kids."
Young said Jones wants all the district support he can get for the more than 400 students at William Wells Brown. A plan is being developed with goals for the next 30, 60 and 90 days.
It is a "positive partnership," she said.
Board chairman John Price said he was concerned about the school's tests scores.
Price said that one solution could come as early as next year, when the district could allocate resources to schools based on need.
"We aren't getting the results we need," he said.
Meanwhile, Farmer, the United Way president, said he is "fully committed to the students, parents and teachers as we pioneer this effort to help give every student there the opportunity to perform to their fullest potential."
The United Way already has key partnerships and programs in place to help children and families succeed, he said.
"We know that we must come together and collaborate to help remove barriers for many families, financial and otherwise, that are preventing so many children from reaching their fullest potential," he said. "Our — and the community's — primary reason for assisting schools is to help ensure that poverty or the impact of poverty on children is never the reason for poor academic performance."
Farmer said community support and partnerships will allow similar volunteer efforts at other schools.
District officials and United Way representatives say that reaching out to families and community members will be critical.
United Way will focus on four key drivers for success: basic needs, school readiness, student success and financial stability.
"Working with the whole child means working with the whole family to make sure that each child can reach their full potential, both inside and outside of the classroom," Farmer said.
United Way will be involved in discussions with Fayette County Public Schools staff as the district team puts together a plan of action for Williams Wells Brown, he said.
"United Way will carefully identify needs from parents, students, teachers and administrators at Williams Wells Brown to ensure that volunteers are matched effectively with students to address the biggest concerns and make the greatest impact," said Farmer. "As the plan is finalized, we will quickly begin reaching out to the community to recruit volunteers."
He said district officials will map out logistics to effectively manage a large base of volunteers.
"We will be arranging orientation and training sessions for volunteers and anticipate that this effort will be fully operational with volunteer placement in the school by January 2015. However, some volunteers may start as soon as this month," said Farmer.
Other schools in Fayette County will also be working to improve test scores. While the district raised its overall score from 65.4 in 2013 to 67, it missed the proficiency benchmark it had in 2012-13 by one-half point and was classified as "needs improvement."
The status of Meadowthorpe and Ashland Elementary dropped from "distinguished," the highest category, to "needs improvement."
Meadowthorpe Principal Joel Katte said teachers were reviewing the scores to figure out what happened.
One area of concern was the program reviews, he said. The addition of program reviews — a self-assessment completed by a team of educators in each school that scores it against a state rubric — to the accountability formula lowered the state rankings of many Fayette County schools, according to Superintendent Tom Shelton.
While Katte and Meadowthorpe's staff know they have room to improve, they are looking at how they evaluated themselves, Katte said.
"We remain committed to strengthening our school-wide writing program as well," he said.
Lisa Smith, principal at Ashland, said her school missed the state's proficiency status by one percentile.
"We are still a high achieving school overall, outpacing a lot of schools in the state," Smith said.
However, she said the school needs to focus on helping children who are in groups that have achievement gaps — which include ethnic minorities, special education students, those considered to be in poverty and those with limited English proficiency.
Smith said she had strong teachers who were digging through data to identify students whose scores had not increased or students affected by the achievement gap.
"We will be designing some enrichment programs for those students," she said. "I would anticipate growth for the next year."
Mike Henderson, the principal at Bryan Station High School, has been working for months to improve academic achievement at the district's only school designated as a "priority" or persistently low-achieving school. He said the gains his students recently made in the area of career and college readiness show that change is possible.
"Teachers are getting kids to change their mindset," Henderson said. "It's no longer okay just to graduate from Bryan Station. You've got to graduate meeting ... benchmarks on the ACT or being college and career ready."