Two elementaries in the Greenup County School District have new principals, and both say they want to improve lagging test scores and open up communication with parents.
Former Greenup County High School athletic director Chris Ailster takes over at Wurtland Elementary while Aaron Collier, most recently director of alternative education at the high school, takes the reins at McKell Elementary.
Wurtland’s most recently released test scores in reading and math were alarmingly low, according to Ailster, who said he already is talking to teachers about coaxing scores up. Currently in the ninth percentile, Wurtland desperately needs big gains and Ailster, 42, said he will make that a priority.
McKell has a similar issue with reading and math, but perhaps most pressing is the gap in scores between the student population as a whole and children in certain subgroups, particularly low-income students, Collier said.
In other words, students in those groups show significantly lower scores in all testing areas.
Collier, 45, said a new state testing system accounts for some of the low scores, but it is up to him and McKell teachers to align the curriculum to new state standards and bring up scores.
Ailster plans to pursue professional development opportunities for his teachers, who he said are energetic and dedicated. “The teachers I’ve met are passionate about what they do. They’ve been coming in here all summer long. The will and the interest is there.”
Down the road he hopes to add an additional teacher for response to intervention, which is a process of providing prompt additional instruction to students who are struggling. The additional teacher could provide more individual instruction, Ailster said.
Both principals come to the job after working mostly with older students.
Ailster, a Greenup County native and 1988 GCHS graduate, taught science for 13 years at McKell Middle School and then spent three years at the high school as athletic director. Another three years teaching at McKell Middle followed that.
Collier taught special education for a year at McKell Middle and then for four years at the high school. He was assistant principal there for seven years, and when the school developed a new alternative program, he was appointed its director.
Shifting to the elementary level requires learning a different approach to students, according to Collier. “The maturity level is different and you have a different way of interacting with kids,” he said.
He already has met with a number of parents. Their top concern appears to be an insistence on being involved in school affairs. “They want to be involved and they want us to communicate with them. I’ll use that as a springboard for changes in our school improvement plan,” he said.
Both men live in South Shore. Collier said that’s one reason he wanted the McKell job.
Ailster, who is African-American, said Wurtland is his school of preference because many of the district’s African-American children go there and need positive role models. “It’s important that kids see someone that looks like me so they can see they can be anything they want to be,” he said.
Both principals have children in the district; Collier has a son and a daughter who will enter ninth and 11th grades respectively; Ailster’s two sons will be in seventh and ninth grades.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.