WESTWOOD A hard look at low academic performance coupled with detailed information on how to improve it left participants at a community forum Tuesday reassured that Fairview schools can claw their way to scholastic success.
Superintendent Jackie Risden-Smith and Fairview High School interim principal Sara Smith used the forum to outline steps the district is taking to improve student achievement in class, and then on the next round of state accountability tests.
Risden-Smith convened the forum following the release of accountability data showing Fairview Middle School joining Fairview Elementary in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.
The forum was sparsely attended but the district streamed it on Facebook to allow later viewing.
The data release was part of the Kentucky Department of Education’s rollout of its new accountability system that ranks schools on a range of one to five stars, and Fairview Elementary and Middle schools received one star apiece. Fairview High School received two stars.
“I’m reassured. I think Ms. Risden-Smith has got us on the right track and implementing things we need to get done,” said Kathy Colm, a Fairview graduate whose father, daughter and now grandson went to Fairview schools.
Her words came after Risden-Smith’s hour-long presentation, which was part pep talk, part wake-up call for the district.
Before that, she was disheartened at the news of Fairview’s academic weakness. “It broke my heart because I know it’s a good school . . . I want to see the school succeed,” she said.
“For several years now, we have not been performing at high levels on assessments,” Risden-Smith said.
Two schools in the bottom 5 percent “is not good. It is not where we want to be. But it is not reflective of what we’re doing,” said Risden-Smith, who pledged to bring all three schools and the district to three-star status — the middle of the pack statewide — by the end of the school year, and to the top 10 percent in five years.
Paradoxically, the poor performance of the two schools can benefit improvement efforts because it places them in Comprehensive Support and Improvement status, making them eligible for assistance by state education experts and additional state money to pay for turnaround efforts, she said.
The district already has beefed up its community engagement initiatives — essential in a tiny school system — stabilized its shaky finances, sought and received substantial educational grants, firmed up district administrative and leadership teams, increased district support for its three schools, stabilized enrollment, and added additional resources.
Some of those resources are instructional assistants and curriculum, instruction and assessment resources.
The district also increased its preschool from two days per week to five, an incentive to working parents who formerly were likely to choose another district — and then leave their children there for kindergarten and beyond.
Work continues on adding and fine-tuning curriculum, instruction and assessment, with the focus on continuous academic improvement, Risden-Smith said.
Because of the CSI designation, state academic auditors will assess the middle school, as they did the elementary last year, and make recommendations for improvement.
The audit will include extensive study of documentation, surveys and interviews of students, staff and parents, and other information gathering.
Ordinarily the audit would assess the superintendent’s and principals’ ability to lead the turnaround. However, Risden-Smith said, that won’t be necessary for her, because she underwent the assessment last year when the elementary was placed in CSI status, and probably will not be necessary for Sara Smith, who was elementary principal last year and also has undergone the capacity assessment.
Because of the CSI status, governing councils of teachers, support staff and parents at all three schools have been dissolved and Risden-Smith has sole responsibility for the success or failure of the turnaround.
However, she plans to form advisory councils and leadership teams and to delegate much of the decision-making to “strong people” on staff. “I’ll take all the blame but I don’t want to take all the credit when we get turned around,” she said.
The rating system gives a false impression of a district that “took a dive,” said former board member Jeff Preston. However, the presentation was reassuring, he said. “I think they’ve got the schools turning in the right direction,” he said.
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