Carter County School District is one of just 16 of the state’s 170 school districts to be named a district of distinction by the Kentucky Board of Education.

This comes a few years after East Carter High School was listed as one of the 10 worst performing high schools in the state and, as a result, faced state sanctions and increased state oversight.

The designation celebrates an amazing turnaround for Carter County schools.

If anything, the poor performance by its students on state test schools inspired administrators, teachers, parents and students in Carter County to increase their efforts to not just erase this black mark on the school district but to obliterate it. Being designated as a district of distinction is a tribute to the success of those efforts.

The designation connotes the district is in the state’s top 5 percent based on overall accountability scores in the 2015-2016 academic year and met certain annual objectives. It also requires that the district not have any focus or priority schools, which are schools that have been identified as low achieving.

The distinction is particularly remarkable in Carter because the district in 2011 was at an ebb — East Carter High School had just been designated a persistently low achieving school and several of its other schools were struggling.

“We’re a long way from where we used to be,” Superintendent Ronnie Dotson said.

The district as a whole was in the bottom 10 percent at that time but jumped past the 60 percent mark the following year and continued to move up to the proficient and distinguished levels.

One key was reading:  “We’ve become known through the state as a district that teaches reading to everybody,” Dotson said.

For example, teachers in all grades and in all classes using a textbook will incorporate activities before, during and after reading, Dotson said.

Another is teacher academies, in which teachers gather regularly to share strategies.

Among the tougher criteria to meet was the annual measurable objective, Dotson said. The objectives vary from district to district and one of them in Carter is graduation rate — the objective in Carter is 98 percent, Dotson said.

The district has been meeting the objective, but it would take only a few students dropping out to take it out of contention.

All district schools — two high schools, two middle schools and six elementaries — have made significant improvements and the result is educators from districts across Kentucky visit the district to observe, he said.

Even when some Carter County schools were struggling with low test scores, not all was gloomy in the district. At the same time East Carter High School was ranked near the bottom in the state, West Carter High School and West Carter Middle School in Olive Hill were forces to be reckoned with in academic competition, thanks to being blessed with some bright students and gifted academic coaches, and tiny Star Elementary on U.S. 60 near Boyd-Carter county line was winning state recognition by excelling in student performance.

The successes of those schools convinced Carter County administrators, teachers and students that if some schools can excel, they all can. And they are. All this bodes well for the future of Carter County. Instead of apologizing for the county’s schools, people can now brag about them.

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