Principals talk academic improvement at high schools
by Bailey Richards
HAZARD — The Perry County school board held their first meeting of the new school year on Thursday where they covered a wide range of topics from the construction of the new school to district wide changes aimed at raising test scores.
The marathon meeting took around three and a half hours to get through, and included presentations on the latest test scores from officials with the district’s two high schools, along with their plans for improvement. Following the very public removal of former principal Estill Neace from Perry County Central High School due to three years of subpar test scores, former A.B. Combs Principal Neil Feltner was moved into the position.
Feltner said that the numbers are disturbing for the high school, but he is working to correct this by starting from scratch. Only 24 percent of students graduating from Perry Central are deemed capable of leaving school and being ready for college or the work force. Additionally, 86 percent of the freshmen class this year has not met the eighth grade benchmarks on standardized tests.
“We rank 198 out of 217 high schools in the percentage of students that are deemed college and career ready,” Feltner told the board.
The school is undergoing both an overhaul forced by the state and by the local administrators who want to see students leave school more prepared for life.
“If they are walking across that stage and not college or career ready, it is like handing them a blank diploma,” said Feltner.
Perry Central will be having labs for all students at the 12th grade level who have not met the benchmark test scores. Feltner said that without being able to offer more of these labs at the younger grade levels, it will be impossible to bring up the test scores consistently. He compared the programs being done at the senior level to rescue efforts.
Feltner is currently looking for retired teachers who would be willing to help out with interventions and labs at the younger grade levels in and effort to keep from having to do a rescue effort for each senior class.
High school students will be doing a monthly public service announcement on the radio explaining what is going on at the school and keeping the community up to date. This is an important part of what Feltner said is a new strategy to offer more transparency.
“I want everybody to know what is going on good, bad or ugly,” he said. “Everybody deserves to know what is going on in that school, it belongs to the community.”
While Perry Central is the only school in the district that is currently being targeted by the state for being a persistently low-achieving school, many of the schools are implementing new changes to help bring up the test scores across the district. The principal of Buckhorn School, Lisa Weist was at the meeting to present the work they will be doing.
“In 2012 you can see that our numbers are a little disappointing for this particular class,” said Weist. “But I did receive ACT results for our seniors that have not been released yet, and they are promising. That is probably going to balance out what we see here.”
Weist said that like Perry Central, Buckhorn will be offering classes to help students that have not met benchmarks.
“We are looking for exciting slow, steady gains,” said Weist.
After the school presentations, the board voted to approve a proposal from Bluegrass Pest Control to handle any pest problems in the buildings. Bluegrass has been awarded this contract for the past seven years with Perry County.
Each of the department heads in the district also gave presentations on their various responsibilities, statistics in the district and initiatives they are working on.
The board also heard a presentation by the architect of the new East Perry Elementary School. The school is progressing and should be open for the start of school next year. So far, much of the structure has been built and even some of the masonry work has been completed. Some changes have had to be made during construction, though they have been able to remain on budget and schedule.
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