Education

Fayette school board members look for new ways to increase student achievement

Scott Bugg instructed Areli Renteria on the ALEKS program in a math class at Bryan Station High School. The Fayette County Public Schools have approved new technology and instructional programs for the school.
Scott Bugg instructed Areli Renteria on the ALEKS program in a math class at Bryan Station High School. The Fayette County Public Schools have approved new technology and instructional programs for the school. Herald-Leader

Despite academic improvements in the 2014-15 school year, Fayette County Public Schools had a slight increase in the number of children who were not proficient on statewide tests, school board members learned this week.

Additionally, the achievement gap between disabled, low income and minority students and others continues to be significant, according to Robyn Oatley, the district Administrator for Special Projects.

The situation prompted school board members on Thursday to discuss two potential new initiatives for the coming months: One is a campaign to get more Fayette County children ready for kindergarten, starting shortly after birth. Another is an initiative to give teachers more training.

“A lot of it has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with the instructional strategies,” Oatley said in an interview at Thursday’s school board meeting. District officials are searching for better ways to teach students.

School board members approved an annual Comprehensive District Improvement Plan Thursday that is mandated for all school districts by the Kentucky Department of Education.

In the plan, Fayette officials are telling the state that they will increase the graduation rate, help more students become college and career ready, try to close the achievement gap, recruit and retain quality educators, achieve reading and math proficiency for all students and reduce the number of students who score at the novice level in the state accountability system.

In Fayette County elementary schools, Oatley said 39.3 percent of gap students were proficient in reading and math in the state accountability system in 2014-15 compared to the total population of students that were 54.8 percent proficient. In middle and high schools, the numbers were similar, Oatley said.

Another problem that impedes academic achievement is that half of the children in Kentucky who enter school are not ready for kindergarten, state education officials recently said. The numbers were only slightly better in Fayette County.

Whitney Stevenson, associate director for early childhood in the district, said Fayette County staff will be reaching out to day care centers, parents and others in the community to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding school readiness. School board members talked about the possibility of having summer camps to get preschool students ready to enter public school.

In a non-traditional format for a school board meeting, on Thursday school board members sat down with district staff in small groups and learned about the district’s challenges and goals.

It “automatically puts us behind” when students are not ready for kindergarten, school board vice chairman Melissa Bacon said after meeting with district staff.

After talking to district staff, board member Doug Barnett said he learned that individual learning plans and safe schools are among the ways to help students become career and college ready.

Board member Amanda Ferguson said that it was important to increase the number of effective teachers in the district, which means that district officials should be working with colleges of education.

In his talks with staff, board member Daryl Love focused on how to reduce the number of students who score at the novice level on tests.

He said the district should provide teachers more training. Several school board members said they wanted to offer local training to teachers and school staff by drawing on the expertise of professionals at the district’s Central Office.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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