Successful KDE school turnaround model faces legislative challenge in Senate Bill 158 – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Successful KDE school turnaround model faces legislative challenge in Senate Bill 158

Editor’s note: On Thursday, Feb. 27, a committee substitute was filed on SB 158. It now allows for KDE to perform school audits and be involved in the school turnaround process. The committee substitute was approved and the bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote. 

Prior to joining the staff of the Prichard Committee, I worked for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) as Chief Communications Officer. This provided me with a familiarity with the powerful work of the department’s education recovery team. I was surprised to learn that Senate Bill 158, filed two weeks ago, would remove KDE from school turnaround, as they are considered a national model in this space.

Within one year of being designated for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) under Kentucky’s new accountability system, Menifee Elementary School in Frenchburg, Ky., exited the status, and was designated a 3-star school. This progress would not have happened without KDE’s education recovery team.

Menifee County Superintendent Tim Spencer said he was shocked when he realized that student performance at that school was in the bottom 5% of the state in 2018. A year later, however, he attributes the school’s success to the support of the turnaround staff at the Kentucky Department of Education.

The success that we had would not have been possible without the resources and team members that were offered to us at no-cost by KDE.

— Menifee County Superintendent Tim Spencer

The CSI designation meant that Menifee Elementary, and the 50 other schools designated in 2018, were required to work with local partners to develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan. The local school boards then had 30 days to advise the Kentucky Department of Education of their intent to utilize the department or an outside agency to audit the school in need of support. Of the 19 districts with CSI schools, only one district chose to use an outside agency, the other 18 chose KDE to perform the audit and intervention.

“I’m kind of shocked that Senate Bill 158 removes KDE from doing the audits. (KDE) always made decisions based on what was best for our kids,” said Spencer. “They provided us with excellent resources and with individuals whose resume’s are second-to-none in education.”

Senate Bill 158 would have a far-reaching impact on the state’s new accountability system (see our analysis here). The Prichard Committee does support elements of this legislation, but we believe it would be detrimental to remove KDE from the education recovery process all together.

Dr. Kelly Foster, Associate Commissioner for Continuous Improvement and Support at KDE, leads a team of 70 education recovery specialists who work in CSI schools and state assisted and managed districts across the state. The recovery process has been in place since 2010, and it has been used as a model to build systems in Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.

The key to the success is building relationships with the schools in the districts and formulating a collaborative effort to help them address issues. It’s about continuous improvement and making appropriate steps along the way to improve.”

— Dr. Kelly Foster, Associate Commissioner
for Continuous Improvement and Support at KDE

Menifee Elementary joined numerous other schools in exiting CSI status in 2019, an accomplishment that Foster takes pride in.

“Our diagnostic review process identifies improvement priorities which are used to develop a turnaround plan.  As the turnaround plan is implemented the KDE education recovery staff coach and mentor the principal and model best practices for teachers,” said Foster. “This process builds sustainable systems within schools, so when KDE leaves they can continuously improve.”

Robertson County Schools, which was placed under state assistance in 2013, has also benefitted from KDE’s education recovery work, as our blogger Lonnie Harp outlined in a recent Bright Spots post.

Superintendent Sanford Holbrook told Harp that state assistance served as a wake-up call for the 400-student district.

“When things got tough and people said ‘Let’s go back to the old way,’ we didn’t. We wanted to do what was best for our kids, and we stuck with it. One big thing that pushes us is our data — what can we do, what’s not working, what can be helped,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to improve every day. Education is learning, and learning is an everyday process.”

Menifee Elementary and Robertson County are just two examples of phenomenal turnaround work being performed by KDE’s education recovery team, who work daily in schools across Kentucky. Over the past 10 years, this work has transformed hundreds of Kentucky schools for the better. It would be a disservice to students, teachers and parents across the commonwealth to let this powerful program come to an end.

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