Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 13, 2012

Smart kids cause for celebration at Star Elementary

Mike James
The Independent

RUSH — Kids at Star Elementary found out Monday that being smart is a lot of fun and comes with a valuable payoff — ice cream and cake.

One of the smallest schools in northeast Kentucky, Star also is one of the best in the state, measured by performance on state accountability tests.

When test results were released recently, Star was named a School of Distinction, a title conferred on schools in the top five percent based on test scores.

Students and teachers celebrated that fact with confections, a bit of tomfoolery and loud, loud cheering.

Principal Charles Baker romped around the gym high-fiving everyone within reach. Preschool aide Gretta Hensley pulled kids off their seats to dance with her. Aide Dana Bellew and a bevy of kindergartners danced in a circle.

Everyone helped turn two giant sheet cakes into crumbs on an empty platter.

“We’ve got to celebrate their achievements. The kids need to know what they’ve accomplished,” said Carter County Superintendent Ronnie Dotson, surveying the merriment with an indulgent eye.

Baker said a few words about higher expectations and increased rigor, about new academic standards and the demand to meet them. But he mainly wanted to tell them this: “There are not just a few of you that are smart. You’re all smart and you do a great job.”

“Finally, we got recognition for the hard work we put into it,” said kindergarten teacher Jan Kennedy. “The kids are our motivation. We don’t want to let one get by us.”

School staff are semi-euphoric about the honor, and it may be because getting there was demanding and uncertain. Aligning curriculum to new common core standards and making major changes in the math curriculum were among the major concerns, Baker said earlier in the day.

Star is a small school — with 141 students it is second smallest in the Carter district and among the smallest in the region. That confers some advantages and some challenges.

On the plus side, teachers said, the extended-family atmosphere means they know virtually every student, their strengths, weaknesses and needs.

Recognizing needs early and meeting them promptly keeps more students performing at or above grade level.

However, fewer students means it is statistically easier to fall behind in state rankings, Baker said. “One or two kids could knock us out.”

Once eyed for possible closure, Star now is on track for a major renovation in a couple of years, Baker said. Built in 1958, the building needs windows, roofing and other basic upgrades, but Baker said he’d like another room or two. Currently some spaces serve double duty, like the stage, which is used for some classes.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.