Fayette school board approves recommendations to eliminate achievement gap

Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington. Herald-Leader

Parent Jacques Wigginton told the Fayette County school board members Monday night that people in Lexington had trusted them to close the achievement gap and they should approve recommendations to get the job done after years of inaction.

"We need you to stand up and do what's right," said Wigginton, a former Urban County Council member.

The board approved 10 recommendations to eliminate achievement gaps for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students. Superintendent Tom Shelton is expected to have dates of implementation for each recommendation by November.

District officials also have said they would create an accountability monitoring schedule that tracks dates when issues are resolved.

Several dozen spectators in a crowd that included parents and retired teachers applauded that news and other signs that district officials were moving to close a learning gap that has lingered for years.

The recommendations from the district's Equity Council ranged from placing attention on mental health issues to holding accountable the leaders of schools with the widest gaps.

Equity Council chairman Roy Woods told the board the council was not going to back down from "attacking the inequities."

The council is charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the board of education.

"If you have some people who are not real interested in moving this initiative forward, then we are going to suggest that you ask them to step aside. Because they don't do us any good," Woods said.

Melissa Bacon, vice chair of the school board, said she hoped that more school staff would undergo training to help them better understand the culturally diverse needs of students. Chairman John Price said he would have no problems requiring the training for staff members who did not take it voluntarily.

Board member Doug Barnett asked for monthly reports from Shelton so the board could monitor progress of the implementation of the 10 recommendations from the Equity Council.

The recommendations were aimed at eliminating gaps and disparities that negatively affect student achievement.

Tava Clay said retired Fayette County teachers such as herself were willing to help, "to be part of the solution."

Price said retired teachers could mentor new teachers and recruit teachers.

Clay said many teachers who graduated from Kentucky State University in Frankfort are encouraging district officials to use that school as a resource in implementing the recommendations.

The top recommendation was for more support and attention to students' mental health issues, a need in the areas of achievement and behavior.

The district's fourth annual equity scorecard includes the 2008 through 2013 school years and tracks student performance.

It showed that the achievement gap had widened, with lower numbers of distinguished and proficient students on the state's K-Prep tests for all groups. Most of the gaps were larger than in previous years.

Among the recommendations are more diverse school staffs that mirror school populations, and determining whether effective teachers and leaders are distributed equitably across schools.

Another was to require officials from schools with the highest gaps and their district directors to share the schools' gap-reduction plans with the school board and Equity Council.

Mike Thomas said he attended Monday's meeting because he works with a nonprofit called Community Inspired Solutions that helps teens.

Thomas said the recommendations go to the heart of the issues teens face in Lexington and "cover the problems going on in Fayette County Public Schools."

Equity Council member John T. Ferguson said he thought that if the recommendations were implemented, "every student will have the tools and the resources to be successful."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader