Remaking education in Carroll County: District’s goal is to have students college, career ready at graduation

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By Kristin Beck

Change has arrived in the Carroll County School system. But officials believe it is for the better.

When sons or daughters, friends or relatives walk across the Carroll County High School stage to receive their diploma, the goal is for them to be college and/or career ready. To achieve this, school administrators have recognized that all students learn differently, and they are working to personalize their educational experiences.

Carroll County was one of 22 school districts in the state to receive about $1.6 million over the next five years as a part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant. Overall, the consortium, led by the Green River Region Educational Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, will receive $41 million.

“The ultimate goal is personalized learning, and the optimum exit is college and career readiness,” Superintendent Lisa James, Ed.D., said. “So what you do in between has to be very focused. That’s why they decided to split and conquer, and why they said it was going to be a five-year grant instead of a four-year grant.”

Carroll County Schools is ahead of the game in teaching personalized learning, as the school district began implementing some of these same principles last year through its work with Next Generation Learning at the University of Kentucky.

“They had challenged us to take the research that had been going on about innovative schools and try to attack some of the personalized
learning and new ways to think about school the year before,” Cartmell Principal Doug Oak said. “Compared to most people in the grant, we’re really ahead in that part of the process. You’ll see some things where we are already down that road.”

“That’s why we chose to be a part of the grant,” James added. “It correlated with what our path needed to be in order to be College and Career Ready in Carroll County Schools,” she said.

The grant provided additional resources, as well as nationally recognized experts who would work with the district along the way —something it would not have been able to afford otherwise, James said.

In the first full school year of the grant, Kathryn Winn Primary and Cartmell Elementary are implementing the Leader In Me program, which is based on Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This program focuses on showing students how to be “citizenship ready” by teaching life skills such as responsibility, goal setting and teamwork.

The middle and high schools are currently collecting a wide range of data – including academics, behavior and attendance – that will be compiled by representatives from OVEC. Afterward, data teams from both schools and central office administrators will attend a meeting Nov. 13-15, hosted by OVEC and GRREC, to learn how to read the data, to truly understand it, and to improve.

The schools will swap places next year.


Personalized learning and acceleration

Personalized learning means looking at children individually and seeing what can be done to address their learning path, James said. However, children also have to learn to “keep the end in mind” – one of the 7 Habits – by envisioning high school graduation and asking themselves what they need to do to be responsible for their own learning so they can earn the College and Career Readiness certificate.

Each school in the district is developing a personalized learning plan as part of the grant, Doug Oak said.

At Cartmell, they are moving every student forward in two ways. The first is by using technology to address the student’s learning path, and the second is using a data team process to provide best practice instruction on grade level standards so that every student is moving forward and is competent in their grade level, Doug Oak said. For example, students struggling in reading will receive intense remediation with research-based products. However, those excelling in a subject will be moved forward. Doug Oak said there are currently 27 fifth-graders who are taking both fifth and sixth grade math.

At Kathryn Winn, Principal Gerda Wise said they just started acceleration between grade levels, such as in math classes. She also noted that one first-grader who was already spending part of the day in second-grade classes was officially moved up to second grade a week ago and is “doing phenomenal.”

As part of the shift to a personalized learning model, grades will no longer have the same meaning as they used to. Now, students must demonstrate competency in a subject before moving forward.

The following is a list of the new grading system:

A – Student is exceeding mastery of standards.

B – Student has mastered standards.

C – Student is close to mastering standards.

D – Student is on the way to mastering standards, but is not quite there.

F – Student has not mastered standards and needs additional support.

It’s hard, but it’s the right thing, James said. In the past, an eighth grader could take five core classes, fail math class and still pass into high school, she said. If a student begins failing math in sixth grade, the hole will just get bigger as they move forward. With competency, students have to prove they know the material, James said.

At Carroll County Middle School, Principal Dana Oak said they provide guided study hall for remediation. On Mondays and Fridays, students have the opportunity to re-take tests they did not score well on. Tuesdays through Thursdays, students are taught specific strategies or best practices for improving.

Students at Carroll County High School have access to the Center for Accelerated Learning, which provides interventions for students before they get too far behind, Principal Tom Stephens said.


Data collection

CCHS underwent a culture audit earlier in the year, which was performed by another high school in the grant, Spencer County. Carroll County staff will audit Spencer County soon. Feedback has not come in yet, James said.

Amy Shinn from OVEC is the cognitive coach assigned to Carroll County and a few other schools, Dana Oak said. She picks up the schools’ data, but is also available to provide anything they may need to make components of the grant easier.

She also will help train the school data teams how to read the data and have it speak to them more, Stephens said. “Having someone with outside eyes look at your data with you, it always helps to have that outside perspective,” he said.

At the GRREC and OVEC meeting, they will show the school data teams how to look at both individual student data as well as school wide trends, Stephens said. If attendance is an issue at the high school, for example, the instructors will ask why. They will keep asking those ‘why questions’ until they get to the root cause of the problem.

Wise compared this to the Lindamood Bell data they collect each month. They identify the students and groups that are moving and those that are not. It could be that one group is not moving because their teacher has been absent a lot. If attendance is an issue, the staff has to figure out if they need to work through the courts or Social Services to address the problem.

After this training, the schools will recollect data, “but we’ll know what format to put it in to have it comparable so it is more meaningful,” Stephens said. “Part of the goal is that even when the grant is through, we can continue the process.”

Each grade also will undergo a pre-assessment, in which standards are identified, James said.

“It’s a protocol (in) which you look at the data and then figure out what you need to do instructionally to meet the needs of all students,” she said. “You usually use a pre-assessment (to identify) where are the learners before you even start teaching them. So if you’ve got learners who are more advanced and who have already got the skill, then you, as a teacher, you have to go beyond that, you have to accelerate … For most kids on a new skill that helps the teacher guide what they need to do instructionally.”

As the class goes through the unit, the teacher will take formative assessments, James said. At the end, there will be a test to see how well the students understood the material. There also may be opportunities to re-teach, based on assessments along the way, for those students who are not understanding the unit.


The Leader In Me

Adopting the Leader In Me principles began, not with the students, but with the school administration and teachers, Doug Oak said. The process is to start with yourself and then to work your way out, he said, by teaching the students and then the rest of the community.

“The whole purpose of the wider community piece of that is actually to spread the use of the ‘7 Habits’ beyond just what is happening with the students at school,” he said.

Cartmell had its first parent training this fall, and Oak said a lot of parents signed up, but not many came. Trainings will be held again in the winter and spring.

A Lighthouse team made up of teachers is “driving the boat” on this part of the grant. “For the administrator, they specifically say you are the advisor,” Doug Oak said. “Your job is to advise as the group comes up with ideas for implementation.”

Wise said the teachers have been taking a lot of initiative and are excited about the topics. “There is more teacher-leader ownership with this, which I absolutely love,” she said.

Wise said she hopes parents will use the vocabulary from “7 Habits” at home with their children. Winn’s parent training is at 6 p.m., Nov. 21. Parents also are being educated about the program through the quarterly leadership assemblies, which are completely run by the students.

Wise sent her Lighthouse team to a Leader In Me assembly in Barren County, and Doug Oak also plans to send his team.

CCMS and CCHS will implement the program next year. Dana Oak said a representative has already contacted and given them the books to study. They also will be coming to their faculty meetings throughout the year to introduce the program before summer training begins. The high school has not been contacted yet, Stephens said.

“The whole purpose of the grant is helping students to be accountable for their learning and their lives overall, realizing that they have control over what is happening to them instead of just going through the process,” Doug Oak said.


College and Career Readiness

As a part of the grant, each school hired a college and career coach. At CCHS, that person is Rachel Mefford.

“She is a great, not only a resource, but a liaison between what we’re trying to do at the high school and at the vocational school, trying to build stronger ties between those programs so it is more of a partnership in getting those kids College and Career Ready,” Stephens said.

Mefford is working on increasing the number of college and career fairs, as well as inviting more technical colleges and industry representatives. She also is scheduling college and business visits and is working closely with guidance counselor Sheree Richter on scholarships, Stephens said.

Mefford began the year by meeting with all of the students in their English classes, which was the beginning of a mentoring phase that will be expanded throughout the duration of the grant, Stephens said. She and Richter will serve as an advisor to make sure the students are on track to receive their diploma and have either the entrance scores they need for college or an industry certification. This will transition into a school-wide mentoring program, which also will include eighth graders, Stephens said.

Stephens said the goal is for everyone to be College and Career Ready by the time they graduate. However, the state also sets a goal for the school each year. For 2014, the goal is to have 65 percent of the senior class College and Career Ready. The goal increases to 71 percent for 2015.


Measuring success

When the federal government gives a grant this large, there are external auditors as well, James said. A team in Western Kentucky looks at the baseline data for all 22 school districts and monitors their effectiveness along the way, from beginning to end.

“There are formative assessments along the way (to show) that these components are really truly working in the districts, focusing on student achievement,” she said.

James said the team will look at the districts K-Prep data, CCR, graduation rate and other factors to see how they have grown over time and look at what things are working, not working and where they need to be more aggressive to get better results.

A big part of this is the Center for Accelerated Learning, James said. As soon as Carroll County received the grant, administrators thought about how they could address the needs of those students needing to be kept on target, as well as those needing to be accelerated. The center offers credit recovery and assistance for those students failing, as well as dual credit and advanced placement courses for those excelling, she said. Students also have the opportunity to take college courses at Jefferson Community and Technical College, Stephens said.

Ultimately, the goal is that when a student graduates, “we’ve done our job,” James said. “We’ve done our job to personalize her education based on what we know the industry and other entities are telling us that they need in the workforce for the 21st century applicant. If we don’t change and move with the times of what industry and business and all those other areas (need in an applicant), then we are doing a disservice because there is no way we can be competitive internationally if we don’t move as much as we need to do to address all of those needs.

“… We have to take one year at a time. It’s a process. Education is ever-changing, so we have to make sure we change with the times. We no longer teach the way we were taught.”