A million dollars per year goes pretty far in helping a rural school dig its way out of a deep academic hole.
Greenup County and East Carter high schools found themselves both at the bottom of the pit two years ago, floundering about with low student achievement, low faculty expectations, little credibility in the community and morale that had bottomed out.
When the Kentucky Department of Education designated both schools as persistently low achieving, an educational jargon term that translates as “failing,” it softened the blow with educational recovery grants of close to $1 million per year at Greenup and somewhat less for East Carter. The money brought in specialists to guide the schools through an academic recovery process that would change the way the schools teach math and reading and improve performance in those and other subjects.
Each school is eligible to apply for a third year of grant money, but after that will have to make do with its regular funding sources.
Further, the pool of grant money is less for the upcoming distribution, largely because of the federal sequester. The grants are competitive and it is up to each school to make its best case. Greenup and East Carter are among 10 schools listed in 2010 and 10 schools also had been listed the previous year.
Officials at both schools hope their records will do the talking. Greenup has risen from the bottom five percent to the 42nd percentile, according to principal Jason Smith, while East Carter principal Larry Kiser said his school has rocketed to the 71st percentile, putting it at proficiency level. East Carter also boosted its college and career readiness percentage — a key component of the state’s new accountability system — from 27 to 66 and saw significant gains in ACT scores, Kiser said.
Greenup is asking for $615,000 in the third year of the grant and Smith won’t know for a while how much he will get. His application seeks funding for what he calls the top five or six components of the recovery strategy. “We got the second highest amount in the first two years, so it must have been a good grant (application), he said.
Smith plans to use the money he gets to retain two educational recovery specialists who have been working with students and teachers and a coordinator of student advocacy and mentoring, and to continue response to intervention programs in math and reading.
East Carter’s grants for the first two years amounted to about $880,000 and $700,000; the third-year amount is still unknown but probably will be less.
East Carter also hopes to hang onto its recovery specialists, of which it has three: one in math, one in reading and a schoolwide recovery leader, Kiser said.
When the grants are gone, both schools will lose the recovery experts, but by then they expect permanent staff will be able to carry on the work.
“The grant got us caught up and got the school headed in the right direction,” Smith said. “We’ll take what we learned and shift the responsibility to the existing staff.” For instance, he will assign one of his permanent English teachers to full-time literacy duty.
The district also will continue using the pioneering math program brought to Greenup by Eastern Kentucky University professor Robert Thomas and will expand it to lower grades.
East Carter is using a business-like systems approach to organize faculty responsibilities, Kiser said. It involves careful attention to each staffer’s responsibilities at all levels.
Among the first steps in recovery was developing a leadership team; department heads meet twice a month, he said.
The school will lose some positions in math and literacy intervention when the grant money runs out but permanent staff will take on those responsibilities, he said.
One thing that won’t change much is the emphasis on interventions and professional development for faculty.
In the long run, according to Smith, the recovery has changed the mindset at Greenup, where 26 new teachers have come on board in the past two years. “We have a young faculty who don’t know any other way to do things,” he said. “These best practices are being embedded in these young teachers.”
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.