State audit says Fayette County not meeting needs of all students, but has ‘capacity’

‘There’s a sense of urgency.’ Fayette superintendent reacts to new round of test scores

Fayette Superintendent Emmanual Caulk explains how he plans to implement additional support to Fayette County public schools categorized with CSI and TSI.
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Fayette Superintendent Emmanual Caulk explains how he plans to implement additional support to Fayette County public schools categorized with CSI and TSI.

A state education department audit of Fayette County that focused on two low performing schools said test scores at those schools had dropped over the past year and the district was “not consistently meeting the learning needs of all students.”

However, the Kentucky Department of Education’s report on Fayette County Public Schools, which focused on Harrison and Millcreek elementary schools, showed that the school district “does have the capacity to manage the intervention.”

Harrison and Millcreek were identified last fall as being two of seven Fayette elementary schools that needed comprehensive intervention and support.

The external audit — called a district diagnostic review — was conducted in February because seven of the district’s 54 schools were identified as needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement or CSI under the state’s new ratings system. The other schools are Arlington, Mary Todd, Millcreek, William Wells Brown, Yates and Coventry Oak.

The Herald-Leader obtained the report through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

The review included interviews with more than 90 students, employees, family and community members, observations of 45 classrooms and the examination of hundreds of documents, district officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Before Superintendent Manny Caulk was hired in 2015, state evaluators found that the district did not have the capacity to make improvements. A 2017 evaluation was more positive than those in the three prior years in that it said the school district had the capacity to lead and that Caulk had brought stability since he was hired in 2015.

On Tuesday Caulk said, “In 2015 this district was facing state takeover, and today we have the confidence of the Kentucky Department of Education.”

Still, the report said at Millcreek Elementary, all scores were below the state averages in all content areas and grade levels. The percentage of students scoring in the proficient/distinguished areas, except fourth grade math, dropped from 2016-17 to 2017-18. At Harrison Elementary, with the exception of 2016-17 fifth grade mathematics, scores were below the state average in all content areas and at all grade levels for two consecutive years.

The audit team suggested several improvements, including giving teachers more training and making sure all students who require extra help get it. The results highlighted the need for schools to carefully monitor classroom instruction to make sure students receive challenging classwork, the report said.

Evaluators also found a lack of digital learning in classrooms.

In terms of strengths, evaluators were impressed by district leadership. Caulk told them the district’s core values were built on the belief that families are partners in education and that it takes an entire community to provide a quality education.

Under the state’s new accountability system, in the CSI schools, a Kentucky superintendent takes over leadership from the school’s decision-making council.

Caulk said the district has already placed additional resources into Fayette’s CSI schools, including instructional specialists, leadership coaches, support teams and permanent substitutes teachers to help with intervention or to cover classes while teachers are planning or analyzing data. The district has also opened accelerated learning labs in those seven schools.

“Our district is making the most of the opportunities afforded under the new laws to intervene aggressively and intentionally to do transformative work,” Caulk said. “ This is just the beginning.”

Caulk said the next step is to develop specific turnaround plans for the 2019-20 school year to ensure that every child is achieving at high levels.

“We will not be satisfied with incremental gains,” he said.