Education

Group wants district focused on eliminating Fayette student achievement gaps

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

With the departure of Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton, the Equity Council wants to make sure that the district implements 10 recommendations for closing achievement gaps among groups of students.

"We want to ensure that the board and the entire district are focused on the 10 recommendations," council chairman Roy Woods said. Woods said the Equity Council, a group charged with analyzing equity gaps and advising the Fayette County Board of Education, will hold a news conference Tuesday on the steps of the district's central Main Street offices.

Woods said he is reviewing a timeline for enacting the recommendations that Shelton, who is leaving his post Dec. 12 to direct a state superintendent's association, shared with the board at a Monday meeting. That timeline calls for much work to begin in the first half of next year.

The Equity Council wants the new superintendent to put emphasis on the recommedations, Woods said. The school board plans to choose an interim superintendent soon and then a new, long-term superintendent by July.

Last month, the school board approved the recommendations that included placing attention on mental-health issues and holding accountable school leaders with the highest gaps. The move came after council members said that decades of initiatives and talk of reform have led to little progress for black, Hispanic, poor and disabled students whose scores are lower than their counterparts outside those groups.

An analysis of the student performance in school years 2005 to 2013, called an equity scorecard, showed that the achievement gap had widened. Fewer students from all groups scored distinguished and proficient on state achievement (called K-Prep) tests than in previous years. Most of the gaps were larger than in previous years.

The top recommendation was for more support and attention to students' mental-health issues.

Shelton said the district has received two grants to implement Mental Health First Responders training for hundreds of school district employees, along with other service providers across the community. Training will begin in the spring of 2015; the grant coordinator is currently being trained.

The district's special education administration team is also working with directors and schools to provide additional support for elementary schools to better meet the needs of young children with mental health issues.

Despite the training, some mental health issues will be beyond the district's capabilities, so officials are reaching out to the University of Kentucky and other agencies for help.

Another recommendation called for diversity among school staff members that mirrors schools' student populations.

Beginning in April 2015, each school principal will receive a comparison of staff and student diversity each time there is an open position. Principals will be directed to be prepared to reveal steps being taken to make staff diversity reflect student diversity.

The district is in the process of hiring a monitor who will have responsibility for staff diversification. The district's goal is to have all schools and departments employ professional staff that reflect the diversity of students by 2020.

The school board backed a recommendation to determine whether effective teachers and leaders are distributed equitably across schools. Data will be compiled into a report that is expected to be available in July 2015.

District officials have said they would create an accountability monitoring schedule with dates on when issues get resolved. Starting in January, a core team of district officials will determine district planning goals, objectives, strategies and activities. The school board and the Equity Council will get quarterly reports.

Also beginning in January, officials from schools with the highest gaps and their district directors will share the schools' gap-reduction plans with the school board and Equity Council, Shelton said.

To help students reintegrate into regular school after they were sent to alternative placements, the district will convene a team.

The district's Fayette Equity Council has been working with the local Children's Law Center since at least 2010 to avoid legal action against Fayette County Public Schools over what the center sees as disparities in discipline.

Rebecca DiLoreto, the center's litigation director, has previously voiced concerns about changing what she views as a punitive culture at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Excellence, an involuntary program for students in the district.

Meanwhile, Kentucky State University associate professor Shambra Mulder, a member of the local chapter of the NAACP, told the school board on Monday that the NAACP believes that the equity scorecard is a civil rights issue.

"We want to be involved," Mulder said.

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