"We are currently classified as the lowest performing school in the state, but we do not intend to stay there," William Wells Brown Elementary principal Jay Jones Jr. told the Fayette County Public Schools board recently.
Flanked by a team of specialists from the district who are helping, Jones presented his plan to improve student achievement.
In a new initiative since statewide test scores were released in October, some principals of low performing schools in Fayette County are asked to appear at board meetings to share their improvement plans.
But the presentations aren't blame sessions.
"The public needs to understand the challenges you face and how proactive you've been in addressing those needs," school board chairman John Price told Jones at a March meeting. "It takes time for these things to happen."
Price told Jones he wanted more information on what William Wells Brown needed.
"The board needs to better understand the needs that you have so we can try to build a budget," Price said.
With the board set to approve a tentative budget Tuesday, Price said this week that the 2015-16 budget has very little money to help William Wells Brown and other low performing schools. He said the board was looking for more money in the 2016-17 budget.
Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm has said it's possible the district will be able to address some of William Wells Brown's needs with federal money.
In terms of demographics, 96 percent of the school's students receive free or reduced-price lunch. About two-thirds of the students are black and 12 percent Hispanic.
With a score of 34.4 out of 100, William Wells Brown Elementary was the lowest rated among elementary schools statewide in Kentucky's testing and accountability program in 2013-14.
It is classified by the state as "needs improvement" as opposed to "proficient" or "distinguished." William Wells Brown also is classified as a "focus" school, meaning that it is underperforming in closing the achievement gaps between poor, minority and disabled students and other students.
The school's plan for moving to proficient includes Jones working closely with a mentor provided by the school district — a retired principal — and with the district's elementary director.
Jones is focusing on improving teacher and principal effectiveness, trying to increase the school's engagement with families and the community, and on creating a safe learning environment.
Jones is trying to increase the number of students who are prepared for kindergarten with two full-day preschool classes in the fall of 2015. He is trying to increase minority hiring, and to better monitor daily instruction. Students are getting instruction in small groups and teachers are getting more professional development.
A new reading program has been purchased for the school.
"I believe I have the hardest working staff in the district. They come in early. They stay late and are always going above and beyond to meet the needs of students," Jones said.
Officials from Fayette County's 16th district PTA, an organization that provides support to individual school PTAs, have been helping to train parents in the William Wells Brown PTA.
A service team from the district has been helping with community engagement, with lesson planning, testing, data analysis, monitoring special education services and with a school-wide behavior plan.
Data analysis is the foundation on which school officials monitor how well students are learning and what kind of classwork they need.
Academic data is analyzed twice weekly by teachers and an instructional leadership team. Data is also analyzed at the school's monthly decision-making council meetings.
Regular classroom test results are monitored, and instructional coaches work with teachers if scores drop.
Behavior data is examined, including data on students who get sent to the principal's office for infractions. Incidents are analyzed by teacher, location, time of day, day of week, type of infraction, grade level, gender, and ethnicity.
Out-of-school suspensions have decreased by 57 percent.
"Kids are struggling academically so it doesn't make sense to send them home," the principal said.
Instead the school is trying after-school detention.
While test scores are important, Jones said he also looks for steady progress, academically and socially, as indicators of a student's success.
Jones said he was pleased with the support he had received from district officials, but he told the school board he needed a new program to help students with math, more training for staff and more staff members.
The school district gave the United Way of the Bluegrass a $25,000 contract to work with the district's office of Family and Community Engagement to recruit, train, and place volunteers at the school. But Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm said United Way officials recently returned payment they had received from the district, saying United Way officials had determined they could help the district without receiving money.
"To charge the school district to help the worst-rated elementary school in the Commonwealth was not something we wanted to do," United Way of the Bluegrass CEO Bill Farmer told the Herald-Leader Friday.
Farmer said that while there was a cost associated with the work, "we felt it was more important to provide the services than to be paid."
Farmer said the United Way also wanted to help the other elementary schools in Fayette County that are classified by the state as "needs improvement."
At Jones' March presentation to the school board, board member Doug Barnett asked the principal what he needed to achieve equity for students.
"We need staffing," Jones replied. "We have a lot of needs at the school and if we had staff there to support those needs, we would see more progress than we have."
Equity for low achieving schools continues to be an issue for the district.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, in a May 14 letter, told Price that the district should immediately improve its support of low-achieving schools and also should focus on equity issues.