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Aspirations and Reality — March 2014 Column

Aspirations and Reality

Our vision statement is simple – Bullitt County Public Schools: The leader in educational excellence.  During my first year as superintendent, we had some assistance from the state due to several years of sub-par academic performance.  The people that worked with us were great and dared our district leadership team, made up of central office leaders and our principals, to aspire to more than then current reality indicated was possible.  At that time, our rankings in the state were in the bottom 22 percent of all districts (137 of 176).  We were not a draw for the community to pull in new families or new businesses.  Frankly, we were a pretty adult-centered system.  I don’t want to sound like it was all bad, because it wasn’t.  Even then, we had dedicated teachers and students could most definitely get a solid education and go on to great success.  The problem is that, though students could get a great education, not enough were getting a great education.

In the face of this reality, we adopted the above vision.  After consistent hard work by our entire staff, we as a system have risen to a position of respect in the state.  Our latest rankings show we are now a proficient school district scoring at the 73rd percentile according to the state calculations.  We have adopted, and continue to modify, new strategies and programs and solidify our core instructional program to ensure that more and more students get the great education they deserve.  I now hear stories of people choosing to come here because of the schools, not in spite of them, and we are not a drag on business recruitment or the real estate market; we are – as we should be – an asset to our community.  This is great news, right?  Yes it is, but…

It leads to the next challenge and I’ll put it in the form of a question.  Why do school districts like Oldham County and Daviess County continue to outperform us?  I mean no disrespect to these districts or their leaders and teachers; just the opposite, but I know that our raw materials – teacher talent, principal determination, and student brainpower – are just as good as either of these same sized and similarly resourced districts.  While we ranked 77th of 174 (remember, this is a big improvement over the past six years) on last year’s state testing system, Oldham ranked 11th and Daviess ranked 22nd.  They have ranked up toward the top for many, many years.

I believe that, just as the school district must challenge itself, our community must do the same.  I suggest that for a still too large segment of our community, academic achievement is not given enough respect.   Academic preparation and achievement should and must be honored, celebrated, and expected.  Our community, through the work of our teachers and students, has risen quickly toward the high aspirations we adopted, but we are not there yet.

It is important that we all consistently send the message to our young friends and relatives that learning is important.  We can demonstrate it by how we interact with our teachers, how we react to report cards, when we schedule vacations and appointments, how late we stay at the ball park on a school night, how much we read and talk about what we learn with our own kids, and so much more.  Kids follow the lead of the adults and if we want our children to be in a position of strength in their futures, we must walk the walk.  Expectations and example matter a great deal.

 

Posted by on March 10th, 2014 Comments Off

Progress Prep – Retention Avoidance Program for 1st graders

Progress Prep Program.Approved 02-24-14

 

 

Posted by on February 27th, 2014 Comments Off

New Discovery School Approved — Middle School STEM Program

Discovery School approved 2-24-14

 

Here is the entire item description that the Board voted to approve.

Posted by on February 27th, 2014 Comments Off

BCHS Additions – Architect Renderings

BCHS-Additions-2-25-14-21

Posted by on February 25th, 2014 Comments Off

The Future Can Be Bright – February 2014 Column

In this month’s Lane Report, there is a special section entitled, Research Kentucky 2014.  If you are interested in looking at it yourself, it can be found digitally at www.lanereport.com.   The section highlights several institutions of higher education and the work they are doing with important research initiatives.

Northern Kentucky University has a gene mutation lab where researchers are working on finding cures for cancer.  Their undergraduate students are key to this research and these students are being prepared for medical degrees or post-graduate work in neuroscience research.   Others NKU students are working with physics professors to launch weather balloons in the Antarctic.

At the University of Louisville, the Speed School of Engineering has a rapid prototyping center that uses 3-D printing in projects ranging from developing dental implants to jet engines.  Other U of L students are working in the Computer Vision and Image Processing Laboratory to develop facial recognition software to help protect us against terrorist attacks, others are working on groundbreaking research in the study of Autism, and still others are assisting in research in high energy physics.

At Western Kentucky University students are helping to develop flexible solar panels and improved weather forecasting systems.

At the University of Kentucky, students working in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging conduct research that may help address the serious problems arising during old age, such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

These examples are just a small number of programs at a few of our in-state public universities.  There are many, many more at the other colleges and universities here in Kentucky, not to mention opportunities outside our state.  I mention them because we need to be aware of the endless possibilities for doing good in the world that are available to our Bullitt County children if we make sure they are properly prepared to take advantage of them.

All of the examples I listed require strong math and science skills.  We must continue to push upward the level of our STEM curriculum from elementary all the way through high school and in dual-credit college courses.  However, it can’t just be math and science.  To help our students be successful, we must also continue to develop strong communication skills and encourage creativity throughout the curriculum.  We are not just preparing workers, we are preparing problem solvers and leaders for this country’s future.

I ask everyone, regardless of their own station in life, to encourage our kids to reach for far more and help expose them to what is out there waiting for them in the wider world.  We are well-positioned, in a geographic sense, to develop a highly skilled entrepreneurial work force that can tap into Louisville Metro area resources and bring high-tech, high-skill jobs right to our own community, where they can raise their own families close to their grandparents.

Posted by on February 17th, 2014 Comments Off

State funding per pupil shifts from state to local taxpayer

Eduation funding shifts to local, declines

 

Dear BCPS Community – This is about something beyond school cancelations; it is about resources to provide students an education and from where those resources come.  The attached chart is very detailed, so let me give you the big picture to start.  It shows that, adjusted for inflation, we have less funding per pupil than in 2008.  It also shows that in 2008, state government provided 62% of the funding and local property/utility taxpayers paid 38%.  That percentage now is 55% for the state, and 45% for we locals.  In short, education funding is the constitutional responsibility of the state legislature and increasingly, the burden of providing for that responsibility has fallen to our local school boards.  This is neither fair nor equitable.  The legislature is in session.  It needs to step up and grant our local taxpayers some relief and enable our schools to continue to provide educational services to our students.  These are not opinions – these numbers are fact.  Our legislators listen to their constituents.  Contact information can be found by googling Kentucky General Assembly.  Thank you for reading and, if you choose, acting on behalf our our students.  KD

 

Keith Davis, Superintendent

Posted by on February 5th, 2014 Comments Off

Thank A School Board Member Today — January 2014 Column

Thank A School Board Member Today

It is already January and we are earnestly preparing for the next school year.  Even in a “normal” school district, there a lot of things that must happen between January and August.  I’m happy to say that BCPS is anything but a normal school district.  We are fortunate to have a crop of educational leaders and teachers in this district who are never satisfied with the status quo.  It has become a part of our culture over the last several years to be constantly vigilant for a better way to do what we currently do and always to look for new ways to expand learning for our students so they are able to seize opportunities the future will present to them.

The development of that culture has not been an accident.  Our Board of Education, back in 2007, was determined to make some significant changes to this district’s academic results.  The district had long been focused on dealing with somewhat explosive enrollment growth and for whatever reason, the academic mission and focus of our schools had suffered.  To be fair, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a student could always, even when our overall results were comparatively low, get an outstanding education and compete with the best in the state and nation.  The problem was not that we didn’t have many great teachers and administrators; it is that the system did not monitor and enforce excellence.  In the classroom beside the great teacher, we might have put up with a terrible one.  A principal or central office administrator who didn’t get the job done academically still got to keep his or her office.  This comfort level led to a level of cynicism among those more naturally inclined to high performance.  It is easy to understand and even business organizations are susceptible to similar behaviors.

To make a long story short, our district’s performance is head and shoulders better than it was back then.  Our culture now has no room (or to be realistic, a whole lot less room – we could talk about how tenure rules and tribunals and politics in general can protect poor performers all day long) for those who wish to coast under the radar and expend minimal effort without care about student performance.  We now talk constantly about how we can reallocate resources and push the envelope of what has been considered possible.  The great teachers who were lurking in the shadows before have become some of our strongest leaders; many have done this by becoming instructional coaches, others by moving into the principal role, and still others are leading from their classroom and in professional learning communities.  I truly wish that everyone in our community could walk through our schools during the day and see the incredible things that go on every day.

All this has not been without pain.  A school district, whether we like it or not and like any other large organization (around 1,600 employees, 13,000 students, and all their relatives), has an element of politics – there is no way around it.  We have had to let some teachers go.  We have had to let some principals go.  We have had to let some central office administrators go. We have had to have difficult conversations with staff members who have the potential, but weren’t doing their job.  Through it all, our Board of Education, elected by you has stood behind us even when it was tough and stood on the side of our children.

January is School Board Recognition month.  Please join me in thanking your Board of Education members, both current and past, for taking a strong stand on behalf of our community.  They make tough decisions and they are essentially volunteers (they get $75 stipend each meeting, but I’m willing to bet it doesn’t even cover their expenses).  Encourage them to not back down in the face of pressure or let up on improving our schools.  Too much (economically, morally, and culturally) depends on the decisions they make for them to be made for any reason other than what is best for children.

Posted by on January 10th, 2014 Comments Off

Educational Improvement Must Continue and Accelerate – December 2013 Column

Educational Improvement Must Continue and Accelerate

It is nice to “lead” a school district full of leaders, both in our administrative offices and our classrooms.  It has been a wonderful thing to watch our performance rankings rise from the depths of having a state performance audit to being deemed a proficient district in six years.  It is awesome for me to see initiatives that we have put in place have a positive effect on our students’ futures, from the College Credit Advanced Placement options at our high schools, the Bullitt Advanced Math Science program, the Career Readiness Center, Response to Intervention programs, Professional Learning Communities process, and several other things. About 85% of our elementary school students are reading on grade level.  Our college and career readiness percentage has almost doubled in the last three years.  We are clearly and unequivocally heading in the right direction.  However good we are, though, we are not yet great and being good can most definitely be the enemy of becoming great.

The most recent international PISA study shows that American students are about average in the world.  We can argue all day about the validity of comparisons and make all the excuses we want, and a lot of that argument would be true, but our country did not defeat fascism, reach the moon and win the cold war by making excuses and counter-arguments, we simply did more than many thought possible and won.  We are one school district in one state, but excellence begins at home and improvement requires constant change and evolution.

I am concerned about many things, but I’ll only illustrate a couple in this short column.  One is the performance of our boys.  In almost every academic measure, our boys are outperformed by our girls.  This is no more acceptable that when the reverse was true 30 years ago.  For example, our district graduation rate for boys is 81.3%.  For girls, it is 89.2%.  The college-going rate is similarly lopsided; the ACT scores are also showing the same trend.  In negative things, like suspensions or truancy, it seems the boys have an unfortunate advantage.  Not to be a doomsayer, because I am a former boy and the father of boys, but if these statistics hold true and continue to erode, we can anticipate a lot of problems for our society.  The second is the performance of our highest achievers.  We have done an excellent job of moving our Novice and Apprentice (the two lower scoring levels) level students to Proficiency.  We have a higher percentage of Proficient scorers in every subject and at every level than the state average – and fewer Novices, which is great.  But, in most subjects in most levels, our Distinguished (the highest level) percentage is slightly lower than the rest of the state, which is not great.

Not to sound stereotypical or sexist, but just maybe we are helping cause the “boy problem” with how we deliver education because there is no statistical reason related to intelligence that boys should be doing worse.  In the same way, there is no reason why we should have fewer top level students than the state average. When we realize that we (as a community, a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, and a parent) own these problems, we can then fix them.

I think the solutions to these two problems are hard and I think they are directly related.  We must continue to increase the level of rigor in our instruction, meaning that we have to teach to a higher level.  Our questions have to lead to thought rather than simple recall.  Our teachers’ assignments have to be engaging and aimed at real problems, not only finding answers in a book or on a worksheet.  We also must find ways to challenge our highest performers and create alternative ways to demonstrate competence.  We are working on ideas that we will propose to our Board of Education that fit within our limited financial resources.  As you hear about these proposals, please consider that – though we are far better than we once were – we are far from finished in our quest to be the leader in educational excellence.  We exist not for any adult’s convenience, but only to help our children become prepared for the future that is rapidly coming their way.

Posted by on January 10th, 2014 Comments Off

EDUCATION IS NOT AN “EITHER-OR” SITUATION – November 2013 Column

EDUCATION IS NOT AN “EITHER-OR” SITUATION

I had the excellent fortune to recently attend a choir concert by one of our local high schools held in one of our community’s beautiful churches.  It was excellent fortune both because of the incredible melodic result of the intense work and practice put forth by the students and director, and because I came across a quote in the program that I otherwise may never have seen, given that I am not any sort of expert on music (other than I know what I like when I hear it).

The quote, by a working composer named Jim Papoulis, was, “What I have come to understand is that we must send the best part of ourselves into the future through our children.  If we want society to evolve, we need to understand the importance of childhood, and how vital our role should be in doing whatever we can to nurture every child.”

Please hold that thought for a moment and consider that there are two basic schools of thought regarding education.  On one side, there is the tug of the “basics” that implies the only purpose of our schools is to teach kids the good old Three-Rs, which they define as reading, writing, and arithmetic (ignoring that only one of the three start with an actual R).  At the other extreme, there are those that argue that school should be a place of discovery and wonder, where each child is allowed to develop skills as they see fit at a pace that is determined by their own internal drummer.  When these people get together, one might say, “Kids need to know how to do long division, balance their checkbook, and write a research paper.”  The other might say, “Yes, but what is more important is that they engage in that which makes us human – art, science, music, and literature.”

At some meeting I attended in the last few years, the speaker presented an idea that I have tried – with some, but not full, success – to implement in my work.  The idea was to try to eliminate the “Yes, but” response and think about a “Yes, and” mindset instead.  For example, “Yes, kids do need to learn how to write a well-organized and coherent essay, and by writing a piece comparing and contrasting the Realism movement with the Expressionism movement of the fine arts world, they can become immersed in something that could bring great satisfaction to their lives.”

The future of our society – meaning the future liberty, security, wealth, and happiness of our very own flesh-and-blood children, grandchildren and future heirs to the country that has been given to us – depends on how we nurture every child.  This is not solely the role of our teachers and full responsibility cannot be rested on their shoulders.  Parents, relatives, neighbors, business people, coaches, clergy and everyone else has a duty in this work.

We do not have to sacrifice extracurricular, leadership opportunities, and the arts in order to raise our academic bar.  In fact, if we do, we will be shooting off our own foot.  If we – as a school system – are not able to prepare a student to successfully demonstrate that they are ready for college or a career in the 13 years we have them, we are not doing “whatever we can to nurture every child.”  The same holds true if we tear the joy of learning out of the curriculum we deliver.

Yes, we absolutely must make the earning of a high school diploma indicative of real, objectively measurable academic achievement, and we must organize our schools in a way that does not eliminate the joy of learning and creativity from our children’s educational experience.

Posted by on January 10th, 2014 Comments Off

No Time to Let Up – October 2013 Column

Our assessment results are in, and they are really good.  Bullitt County Public Schools are demonstrating that we can provide a solid, research-based instructional program that can prepare students for a successful post-secondary academic or working career.  We have accomplished this rise from bottom 20% performance to a designation as a Proficient school district in an era of absolutely unprecedented state budget reductions that have taken away all money for textbooks, most for after-school programming, and most for teacher training – not to mention real cuts to basic funding that all together amount to around $6 million this year.  We have also accomplished this while offering students more choice and individualization, increased student safety, decreased discipline problems, and increased teacher satisfaction.  We have done this by putting the right people in the right positions, focusing on what works, enforcing standards in our classrooms, treating students as individuals and monitoring their intellectual growth, and maybe most importantly, by allowing our professional teachers time and structure to work together to solve the problems they can identify faster and more accurately than anybody else.   The success that has been reported is real – it has been a steady improvement and it will only increase over time.  As the saying goes, success breeds success and we have the Big Mo (mentum) on our side.

 

So, we (in this entire context, by we, I mean the entire Bullitt County community) have celebrated and will continue to do so.  Our students hear and participate in these celebrations, and it heartens them to strive to be better.  They have shown that being part of BCPS is not a hindrance, but something of which they can be proud.  Our teachers are helping our students outshine the performance of students in districts that have many more resources and have outperformed us for years.  So, that is all wonderful.  The question becomes, what now?

 

History has shown time and again that a people that become prideful and haughty are destined for eventual defeat.  I believe this applies to schools and school districts just as it does to nations and families.  At the risk of sounding like a downer, I’m going to point out that, though we made great progress and we have reason to be proud, we have a long, long way to go.  We must keep our shoulder to the wheel and not lose our focus on each individual student and preparing them for their future.

 

College and Career Readiness (CCR) has been and will continue to be a huge focus for us, as it has for districts around the state.  We have improved the college and career readiness rate from 27% when they first measured it in 2010, to 50.1% in 2013.  That is great progress and ahead of the goal set for us by the state, but it still means almost half of our graduates are not meeting the CCR standard.  In less than two years, with the students who are now Juniors, EVERY student is required under Board policy to demonstrate college or career readiness in order to graduate.  Our schools and students are well aware of this requirement and our schools have been working very hard to make sure that every student is on a path toward success.  As I’ve said over and over (and will again), if we want our diploma to be valuable, it has to mean more than time in a seat.  This requirement is bold and it appropriately puts the responsibility for making the effort to be rewarded with a diploma squarely on the shoulders of the students.  Students – and the parents of all students in the 11th grade or below – need to be aware of their CCR status and make concrete plans to meet the standard in order to graduate with their class in 2015 and beyond.

 

Our students, parents, teachers, administrators, and support staff deserve to be praised for achieving the milestone of becoming a Proficient school district.  We have come far, and the improvements are impressive by any standard.   However, being good is not good enough.  Our shared vision for Bullitt County Public Schools is to be the leader in educational excellence.  So, we’ll celebrate, rejoice and then push even harder to become the best we can be.

Posted by on October 23rd, 2013 Comments Off