Every workday between 8 a.m. and noon, Fayette County Schools' acting superintendent, Marlene Helm, and other district officials will meet in what she calls a "war room," looking at data and discussing strategies to raise student achievement.
It's part of Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday's new pilot plan for Fayette County to provide more support for low-achieving schools and to work on closing the achievement gap separating minority, low-income and disabled students from other students. Last month, Holliday told the district they must make the effort or face state action.
"He has asked us to make a hard push," Helm told school board members Monday night at their monthly meeting.
The state's plan is to decrease the number of students performing at the novice level in the state's accountability system, and to raise the achievement among minorities, disabled students and students living in poverty. Holliday wants to replicate the program statewide in the next three years.
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When a district team of professionals goes into a school to see how the school is closing the achievement gap, they will be asking about specific students, Helm said.
"We will not only know how many there are... We are going to know them by name at every school, we'll know whose classroom they are in, and we are going to look at them very, very intently," Helm said.
District officials will focus on students who scored at the novice level at all Fayette schools, not just at schools considered low-performing, Helm said.
"We want to attack this novice reduction with ... laser focus," she said.
Helm said the district would measure its progress, and officials will refine and readjust as needed.
The state's consultant met for three hours Friday with district officials, and she will meet with them monthly. The consultant will meet with leaders from the district schools in August, and a plan will be rolled out in the schools in September, Helm said.
Helm said state and federal grants are being refocused to pay for staffing positions that will help in the effort. The money is already required to be used, for example, for disabled students or English-language learners. Every school might take a different approach in closing the achievement gap, Helm said.
District officials will report to the school board monthly about the progress and to the Kentucky Department of Education every quarter.
The goal, Helm said, "is to work together to make sure that our student achievement data is to be admired across the globe."
Also on Monday night, the school board, which had said June 3 that the redistricting plan for Fayette County Public Schools was final, made a revision that could affect the achievement gap.
Board members decided that the low-income Bainbridge neighborhood will be allowed to stay at high-achieving, higher-income Athens-Chilesburg Elementary, as parents and school staff had requested.
When the board voted 3-2 on June 3 to approve the final redistricting plan, it denied a request from Bainbridge residents to keep the area at Athens-Chilesburg rather than reassign it to Breckinridge Elementary, already a higher-poverty school. Overcrowding at Athens-Chilesburg was given as a main reason.
But on Monday, Mary Wright, the district's senior director of operations and support, gave school board members several reasons to reverse that decision.
She said the district is building a new elementary school in the area to deal with the overcrowding at Athens-Chilesburg. She said having the Bainbridge children there increases that school's diversity from what it would be under the plan approved June 3.
Also, Bainbridge children had been assigned to Athens-Chilesburg for years, Wright said. School board members acknowledged that they had been uncomfortable with the decision to move those students after hearing from parents and staff.
Board member Doug Barnett said the school's staff told board members earlier this month that they wanted to keep the Bainbridge students. School board member Daryl Love mentioned comments by a mother living in Bainbridge who said the staff was helping her get a General Educational Development certificate.
Love said the school staff is not only empowering the lives of students in Bainbridge but changing the lives of vulnerable families.