Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 1, 2010

Watch out for West

School designated for academic excellence

By MIKE JAMES � The Independent

OLIVE HILL — Teachers at West Carter Middle School have learned to gauge student success on an individual basis, according to Teena Liles.

�Success for a gifted student is different from success for a struggling student,� said Liles, who teaches eighth-grade reading at West Carter.

Being in tune with students is part of the formula that makes West Carter a Kentucky School to Watch, Liles believes. The designation, awarded by the Kentucky Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, acknowledges academic excellence, responsiveness to the needs and interests of students, and commitment to high student achievement.

To Liles, that boils down to a culture that values relationships between teachers and students, teachers and administrators, and administrators and students.

The result is a sense of community, according to math teacher Erica Perkins. Faculty in particular work together, both at their grade level and in departmental teams.

Teams dissect core content requirements to build class activities and assessments, she said. For instance, a core content requirement for math may call for learning to calculate with fractions, but that requires multiple operations like simplifying, finding least common denominator, and converting to mixed numbers, she explained.

Grade level teams make a point of lunching together to discuss teaching strategies and department teams meet after school, she said.

A mentor program at West Carter assigns each faculty member with two to five students who may need extra attention, Perkins said. That could be because of academic, social, emotional or family issues, she said.

Rigorous academic requirements are expected in the classroom, and one motivational tool teachers use is competition, Liles said. Students know the classroom averages of other classes, so their teachers challenge them to beat that average in their own room, she said.

Also, the school has beefed up its technology over the past three years, Liles said. For instance, she uses an electronic tablet connected to her laptop and the classroom smartboard. What she writes on the tablet appears on the board.

It�s analogous to writing on a chalkboard but the teacher can walk freely in the room and keep a better eye on student work.

West Carter was one of seven Kentucky schools named as Schools to Watch; Boyd County Middle also earned the designation for the second time.

Visiting experts observed classrooms, interviewed teachers, administrators, students and parents, and pored over achievement data, suspension rates, quality of lessons and student work.

The experts concluded that West Carter focuses on student achievement �but at the same time they have established a very caring and safe learning environment for all students,� according to program coordinator Fran Salyers.

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