Viper Elementary gets five star rating

Viper Elementary School students at work in the classroom. Viper Elementary School received the highest scores of the Perry County Schools District and Hazard Independent Schools by the state through a new accountability system. Viper Elementary was the only school in the county to receive five stars at the elementary and middle school level.

Both Perry County Schools and Hazard Independent Schools received high marks on The Kentucky Department of Education’s new accountability system. All of the schools part of the Hazard Independent Schools system received three stars or above while only 1 of the 16 schools in the Perry County School district received below three stars.

Viper Elementary School was the only school in the county which attained a 5 star rating and was recognized at both the Elementary and the Middle School level. Officials from both schools say that the data shows growth within the districts.

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new accountability system benchmarks the progress of each school district on a five-star rating scale. The scores given to each school and district are based on K-PREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) testing results, reading and math proficiency, proficiency in social studies, science and writing, academic growth/progress over one academic year, transition readiness and graduation rates. Every school receives their own score report based on grade configuration. While the high school, middle school and elementary school levels each get a rating in the districts, districts as a whole do not receive an overall rating.

Viper Elementary School received a five star rating at both the elementary and middle school levels. Only 36 other schools across the state got a five star rating at the elementary school level and only 11 other schools across the state got a five star rating at the middle school level.

Officials in both school districts say that they are pleased with the results but want to aim higher.

Hazard Independent Schools District Superintendent Sondra Combs said a five star rating is the goal of each of the district’s schools.

“We are very proud of our schools,” she said. “We have a tradition of academic excellence and our goal is for all of our schools to be four and five stars.”

Combs added that each school in the Hazard Independent Schools District scored well on the assessment.

“Roy G. Eversole earned a four star rating, the elementary school scored a 73.5, which gave them a four-star rating within the range of 71-78,” she said. “Less than 200 elementary schools were four star out of 725 schools, so that was good. HMS received a three-star rating, they earned an overall score of 65 where you needed a 67 to be a four star. Only 72 out of 319 middle schools were a four star or higher. HHS earned an overall accountability score of 71.3 which gave them a three-star where you needed a 72 to be a four star status, and we were seven tenths (7/10) of a point away from a four  star status. Only 34 high schools out of the 228 were a four star or above. Our sixth and eighth graders showed very high growth and we were one of only 17 districts to earn a very high growth status for sixth through eighth grade, 17 out of 173 districts.”

Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett pointed out that most of the district’s schools were above average, according to the assessment.

“When you look at the data, the vast majority of the schools in our district were three stars or better and the majority of schools were above the state average,” said Jett, “It’s significant.”

He added that, in his time as superintendent, the amount of growth in the Perry County School district has been constant.

“We’ve been at this seven years now and the first year was a train wreck and everybody knows that but it’s gotten a little bit better every year, this is the first year we don’t have a school that has some kind of negative label attached to it,” said Jett, “We have a ton of stuff to be proud of, It seems like I say this every year, that it’s our best year but without a doubt it truly is our best year.”  

He added that receiving positive assessments was a welcome change and that, in the past, Perry County had not always attained positive assessments compared to surrounding counties.

“We’ve done comparisons with other districts and other high schools, typically there will be several surrounding schools that are distinguished and we’d be proficient,” he said. “Well, the highest any of the schools are around us is three stars and our high school is three stars, so we’re no longer in the middle of the pack there.”

He added that, during the past seven years, administrators, staff and teachers worked with the superintendent to make changes, revise methods of teaching and alter their approaches on more than one occasion during Jett’s time in the position.

“Everyone dug their heels in and made a commitment many many years ago that we were going to make this district better for every kid, and that’s what we’ve done, we’re going to continue to do that,” Jett said.

Perry County, along with many of the counties in the region, have struggled with the economy and that struggle has not been absent in the school districts.

“There are always challenges financially when you look at people that have moved out and you look at property evaluation, that’s decreased so the amount of property taxes you collect are less every year,” said Jett. “If someone needs something we try to get it, we have a district leadership team that meets at least every 2 weeks and if there are issues that come up we find a way to purchase that stuff, we’ve tightened our belt over the past 7 years and try to eliminate a lot of wasteful spending, we’ve done an energy management project that should save us some on utilities.”

However, both school districts say that part of their success has been thanks to partnerships throughout the community that provide resources and opportunities to students while lessening the financial burden those may cause.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s not tough financially because it is but we have great partnerships with other agencies throughout the community,” said Jett. “If it weren’t for those partnerships and those other agencies providing those services, it would be a lot more difficult financially to provide those opportunities for students and we want to meet the needs of every kid wether it be socially, emotionally, academically or behaviorally we want to make sure we can meet all of those needs.”

Hazard Independent Schools also implements similar program focused on providing opportunities and resources to students .

“We are very fortunate to have academic interventionists provided through our Promise Neighborhood grant,” Combs said. “At each school level we have a school coordinator and each one of those has a case load that helps. We also target our students that do not perform as well and make sure their interventions happen through the academic interventionists and our RTI classes, having those extra resources and being able to target students more one-on-one, I think that’s a big plus for our district. We’re also fortunate to have Gear UP and Promise Neighborhood that gives us a lot more resources to help those students.”

Officials within both school districts say that they are at work to improve their assessment scores next year.

“I think everyone has already identified why they weren’t a higher level, I think our elementary schools have identified the specific grade levels and content wether it’s reading and math or it’s science and on-demand, I think we know what that is and I think we’ve got a plan in place to make sure we continue to grow,”Jett said.

 He added that the key to success has been teamwork and great working relationships between not only those within his school district, but the entire county. Jett added, “This community, Hazard and Perry County, is more united than it’s ever been and I think that’s why we will continue to grow.”

Following are the star ratings for the Perry County Schools District:

• Perry County (district - elementary level) — three stars

• Perry County (district - middle school level) — three stars

• Perry County (district - high school level) — two stars

• Buckhorn School (elementary level) — three stars

• East Perry Elementary School (elementary level) — three stars

• Leatherwood Elementary School (elementary level) — two stars

• Robert W. Combs Elementary School (elementary level) — three stars

• Robinson Elementary School (elementary level) — four stars

• Viper Elementary School (elementary level) — five stars

• West Perry Elementary School (elementary level) — three stars

• Buckhorn School (middle school level) — three stars

• East Perry Elementary School (middle school level) — four stars

• Leatherwood Elementary School (middle school level) — three stars

• Robert W. Combs Elementary School (middle school level) — three stars

• Robinson Elementary School (middle school level) — four stars

• Viper Elementary School (middle school level) — five stars

• West Perry Elementary School (middle school level) — three stars

• Buckhorn School (high school level) — three stars

• Perry County Central High School (high school level) — three stars

Following are the star ratings for the Hazard Independent Schools District:

• Hazard Independent (district - elementary level) — three stars

• Hazard Independent (district - middle school level) — four stars

• Hazard Independent (district - high school level) — three stars

• Roy G. Eversole Elementary School (elementary school level) — four stars

• Hazard Middle School (middle school level) — three stars

• Hazard High School (high school level) — three stars

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