Fayette County Public Schools have until Sept. 1 to give the Kentucky Department of Education a plan to provide more support for low-achieving schools.
The plan will outline work on closing the achievement gap that separates minority, low-income and disabled students from others.
The systems that once saw some success in increasing student achievement have "eroded" over time, Interim Superintendent Marlene Helm told Fayette County school board members a few weeks ago.
The situation brought a recent warning from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday that without improvement, the state would take action. He has sent members of his staff to Fayette County to help implement improvements.
At a school board meeting this month, Helm explained that the district was realigning the support it gives schools to rebuild those systems and to ensure that "each and every one of us is held accountable."
Experts in behavior, instruction and special education will work with each school. District officials are meeting four days a week, four hours a day to review issues such as which schools have preschool programs and to look at attendance numbers, test scores and data on which students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.
The state's plan is to decrease the number of students performing at the "novice" level in the state's accountability system, first in Fayette County, and then in the rest of the state.
One of the things new Superintendent Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk will do when he starts on the job next week is meet with the leadership team at each school and with Kentucky Department of Education officials about the achievement gap.
Roy Woods, chairman of the district's Equity Council, told school board members that some principals and teachers at low-performing schools have only one or two years of experience. He said in many cases, administrators at high-performing schools have more experience.
Helm said district officials are looking at experience levels of principals at low-performing schools, but it's difficult to make changes because school councils choose principals.
Woods suggested that the school board reallocate resources to low-performing schools.
"If we don't reallocate resources in an equitable manner, then as a district we are not going to be able to move forward," he said.
"I think we need more resources," said Equity Council member Ron Langley.
School board members have said they want to make sure that if they spend money they get academic returns on their investment.
State Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, told school board members at the same meeting that he wanted to work with them to eliminate the achievement gap.
Thomas asked members of a teachers' group, the Fayette County Education Association, how teachers thought the achievement gap should be closed and took his findings to the Fayette school board.
"Teachers are the front-line soldiers on the achievement gap, and their voices should be heard," he said. Teachers want more interaction between high-performing and low-performing students, said Thomas. And teachers at low-performing schools don't think they are getting the same level of support that teachers at high-performing schools do.
Helm said every school in the district had students who performed at the novice level. Some have fewer than 10 students in that category and others have more than 100.
She said district officials have identified the students who scored at the novice level in reading and math at each school.
"There is no simple, single answer on reducing the number of novice learners," said Helm. "What works at one school will not work at another."
She said that as a district employee in the late 1980s, she wrote a report on the achievement gap that showed few minority students were taking advance placement classes and exams.
"It's disheartening to think that 30 years later, we are still talking about some of the same issues," she said.