Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 5, 2012

East Carter High in recovery mode

Readiness results impress state's top education official

Mike James
The Independent

GRAYSON — Identified two years ago as being one of Kentucky’s lowest-performing schools, East Carter High has improved enough to gain the notice of the state’s top education official.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday sent East Carter a message noting it is in the top 10 in the state in increasing its college and career readiness numbers.

In a year, from 2011 to 2012, the school went from 27 percent of its students being considered college- or career-ready on graduation to 66 percent.

The 39-percentage-point increase is hugely significant in light of new state accountability standards that focus on college and career readiness.

East Carter has improved by other measures too, according to Principal Larry Kiser. From test scores being in the bottom 5 percent in the state when designated a persistently low achieving school, it now places in the 71st percentile.

It has done so through a combination of new and tough educational guidelines and the assistance of an educational recovery staff of experts.

The recovery staff, which includes specialists in mathematics and English, is headed by Julia Rawlings, a Fleming County educator who has had teaching positions, school and district administrative posts and state appointments, including a stint as a highly skilled educator for the Kentucky Department of Education.

As a mentor to Kiser and faculty, Rawlings evaluates curriculum, assessments and other facets of the educational process at East Carter.

One of the chief emphases is on student engagement, according to Rawlings. “If students are engaged, hands-on, minds-on, they are more apt to hold the content,” she said.

It starts with maximizing class time by assigning work that starts the moment students walk into the classroom, setting learning targets, and using regular assessments to monitor each student’s progress.

Among tactics for engaging students is issuing them notebooks through which they take part in East Carter’s emphasis on using data to steer its improvement. Students record test scores, graph their progress and take notes on their class performance.

“We have become one of the most data-driven schools in the district,” Kiser said.

Planning is made on 30-day, 60-day and 90-day schedules, which make it flexible enough to change at almost a moment’s notice if teachers and administrators see a piece of the plan is not working well enough.

“It makes us look at what we are doing to achieve our goals,” Rawlings said. The goals also are more specific and whatever doesn’t get done in the 30-day plan rolls over to the 60-day time frame.

Recovery leaders are asking both staff and students to list both achievements and barriers to learning, and use what they hear to improve the educational and testing process, Rawlings said.

“Everything you do can be improved on,” Superintendent Ronnie Dotson said.

A school leadership team meets every other week. During the first year of the recovery it met weekly. It consists of school administrators, recovery staffers, central office administrators, and department heads.

The state will perform its next assessment of the school at the end of January and East Carter will continue its turnaround process for another year.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.