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Everything was shiny and bright for the opening of the new Boyd County High School on Wednesday. MARK MAYNARD / The Independent

Four schools from Northeast Kentucky are among 47 across the state singled out for performing significantly better than expected on certain measures of academic achievement.

The schools — Boyd County High School, East Carter High School, Oakview Elementary and Wurtland Elementary — all were named “educational bright spots” by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The designation brings with it the attention of other schools across the state, which will look to schools on the list for ideas to use in their own classrooms.

Schools on the list were chosen through a study conducted by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky.

Researchers used eight academic years worth of data — from 2011-12 to 2018-19 — from the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Center for Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The designation requires schools to beat expectations for all students and also for those in certain at-risk groups.

The study has shown that at-risk kids face additional obstacles to learning and that teacher experience is important to student success.

Each school on the list exceeded expectations in a particular area. For Oakview and Wurtland it was third-grade reading. Oakview showed better than expected performance for all students in one year, and significant improvement among children who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. Wurtland showed better performance for all students in two years, and improvement among students with individualized educational plans.

Boyd County made the list for ACT mathematics performance among all students for one year, with significant improvement among students with IEPs. East Carter showed up for college-going rates among graduating seniors, with significant improvement among all students.

Understanding what some schools do to perform beyond expectations is “fundamentally Important” so that other schools can adopt similar practices, researchers say.

At East Carter, strong support for the ACT results in higher scores and that leads to more scholarship opportunities and entry to college academic programs, principal Kelley Moore said.

That is done through coursework, tutoring, including one-on-one sessions, and teachers emphasizing the importance of the ACT, Moore said.

The school also brings in college recruiters and makes sure students have time to meet with them, she said. Students and parents alike get help with financial aid preparation, including filling out the FAFSA application.

All East Carter students get one-on-one help in career readiness and post-secondary education, whether college or vocational/technical education.

Oakview principal Rebecca Howell credited the third-grade performance on a continuum of education.

“It’s the instruction that takes place in this building every day from kindergarten through fifth grade. It didn’t just start in third grade," she said.

Oakview also has an effective response to intervention program — early identification and support for children with learning needs. The program is tailored to each student to close learning gaps, she said.

Wurtland's expectations are already high, principal Steve Branim said.

“We do it by deliberately setting expectations for kids and carrying them out and pushing kids every day and by giving as much support to our kids as we can,” he said.

The rest is school culture.

“(Third-grade teachers) Patricia Steele and Ali Wilcox build relationships and kids want to perform for teachers because teachers care about them," he said. "From the minute they walk in the door in the morning until they walk out, it's all about letting the kids know we care about them. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's all about relationships."

The Daily Independent was unable to reach Boyd County High School principal Tom Holbrook.

Compiling the list involves visits to schools and harvesting more information to shed light on their performance, according to Prichard Committee spokeswoman Jessica Fletcher.

“We want to find out what led to these results and highlight the good things being done so other schools can take these things and put them into practice,” she said.

The designation is valuable to the education community as a whole because it is indicative of what makes a school successful, according to Norma Meek, a retired Boyd County educator and member of the Prichard Committee. “Other schools can use it to replicate what they’ve done right and be a model,” she said.

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