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Kentucky’s Gatton Academy Named Nation’s Top Public High School, But Can It Be Replicated?

Newsweek Magazine has again compiled a list of the best high schools in the country, and a Kentucky school is on top.

To call the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science a high school, you’d have to suspend an element of reality. You’ll find no football games, pep rallies, or dismissal bells on the Kentucky campus. Instead you’d find couches designed for study halls and white boards scribbled with advanced math. Last week, one student even walked around campus in a t-shirt proclaiming, “Extreme science: What a rush.”

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JCPS Dismissing Early

Due to predicted winter weather, Jefferson County Public Schools will dismiss two hours early today:

  • Middle and high schools at 12:20 pm
  • Elementary schools at 1:45 pm
  • Afternoon early childhood education is also cancelled
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Southern Indiana School Districts Struggle to Balance Budgets

Southern Indiana school districts are trying to figure out how to balance their budgets before the end of the year. Some districts are outsourcing, while others are consolidating.

The Greater Clark County Schools district is considering closing Maple Elementary School in Jeffersonville. A public hearing on closing the school will be scheduled early next month.

The district faces a nearly $4 million budget shortfall and Maple Elementary is just one of several items being bargained by the board of trustees. Greater Clark has a little over one month to balance the budget, which starts the first of the year, said Tom Galovic, the district’s chief financial officer. Cuts to state funding and the property tax cap have forced difficult decisions, he said.

“It used to be in Indiana that you had tax levies for general funds. So if you needed a couple more million dollars you raise your property taxes, levies went up and that was it. Now we no longer have that ability because the state tells you this is how much money you’re going to get in the general fund,” said Galovic.

Indiana controls how much general revenue districts get, and other funds are determined by the state’s 1 percent property tax cap on homestead owners.

“They’re really hitting you on both sides of the financial equation,” said Galovich. “So you only have a limited amount of money. You have no ability to raise your levies to get more money.”

The tax cap is estimated to cost the district around $2.4 million, he said. But the district won’t know the actual amount until sometime in February, after a budget is in place, he said.

In New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools, leaders chose to outsource its custodial services to save money and Greater Clark County Schools is considering the same, said Galovic.

Both districts are trying to solve $4 million shortfalls from their budgets.

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Greater Clark County Schools Still Has Work To Do

Greater Clark County School students began classes this week with its No Child Left Behind goals met and all elementary schools making adequate yearly progress. But the district still has a lot of work to do, said Superintendent Stephen Daeschner.

Last year’s ACT results were released this week. Unlike Kentucky, Indiana does not require all students to take the ACT test. Around 29 percent of students were tested and overall they scored above the national average. But Greater Clark County students didn’t meet the same mark.

Students from the district who were tested, had a combined score around 20, said Daeschner. The national average is 21.1.

This year, all the district’s students will take some version of the test beginning in 7th grade and Superintendent Stephen Daeschner said this year, the county will have a better idea of how its students compare with the state. The tests are being funded completely from the district’s educational foundation, he said.

“The foundation over here has stepped up and is paying for all the kids to take all the tests. So we are making it mandatory that all kids take the test,” said Daeschner.

The district made significant improvements over the past year. Some schools increased student achievement by 32 percent and all elementary schools met the federal guidelines for adequate yearly progress, he said.

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New JCPS Superintendent Outlines 90-Day Plan

Jefferson County Public School Superintendent Donna Hargens announced a 90-day plan at her first school board meeting on Monday.

The plan outlines her strategic priorities and includes performance checks and both short and long-term goals.

The plan helps regulate the district’s progress as it attempts to improve student performance and communication with the community, said Hargens. The plan can be followed online, with results documented as goals are met.

“And we will update it regularly and you will be able to see if these are complete, or in progress, or still to be started,” Hargens said. “And we intend to do reports to the board, because I think it’s really important that we start to work and start to work together and show the community what we’re accomplishing.”

The agenda combines the transition plan prepared for Hargens by the school board and the work that Hargens will already be expected to accomplish.

Click here to see a copy of the plan.

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Candidates for JCPS Superintendent Visit Louisville This Week

The two finalists vying for the superintendent’s job at Jefferson County Public Schools will make separate visits to Louisville this week.

Dr. Christine Johns-Haines will meet the public tomorrow evening at 6:00 at Male High School. She’s superintendent of Utica Community Schools in Michigan.

Dr. Donna Hargens, chief academic officer of Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina, will take part in a public meeting Wednesday evening at 6:00at Male.

Search committee member and 15th District PTA President Myrdin Thompson says parents, students and JCPS employees should attend the meetings to ask the candidates how they would handle the various challenges facing the district.

“Education doesn’t take a vacation. It’s imperative that as a community we step forward and attend the open public sessions that are available.”

Thompson further believes both candidates are equipped to deal with the various challenges facing the district, including student assignments.

The Jefferson County school board is expected to make a hiring decision in about a week.

Current Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s contract expires at the end of the month. It was not renewed by the board.

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Survey Finds Teachers Don’t Have Enough Time to Work With Students

by Brenna Angel, Kentucky Public Radio

Most Kentucky teachers and principals feel safe in their schools, but many don’t have sufficient time to work with students. Those are two of the major findings from a statewide survey administered in March.

Just over 42,000 Kentucky public school teachers and principals responded to the TELL—which stands for Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning—survey. State Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross says the questionnaire touched on a variety of topics related to work and teaching conditions. 83 percent of respondents said they intend to continue teaching at their current school but only 63 percent of teachers said they had sufficient instructional time to meet the needs of all students.

“In Kentucky state law requires that an instructional school day contain a minimum of six hours. And really six hours in not a lot of time,” says Gross.

Gross says unlike other school surveys that ask about what educators are teaching, the TELL survey focused on working conditions.

“Anyone who has a job, outside of the home especially, knows that the atmosphere in your workplace makes all of the difference,” she says. “You can have a wonderful job that you enjoy, but if things aren’t comfortable in your workplace, if you don’t feel like you’re supported and you don’t have the things you need then that job maybe isn’t so great.”

Results from the survey were released this week and are available online for school districts that had at least a 50 percent response rate. The results will be used to generate ideas and improvements at the state and local level.

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Local News Politics

Improved Revenue Projections Mean More Money for Indiana Schools

In light of improved revenue forecast, more money will go to public schools in Indiana.

Governor Mitch Daniels said this morning that tax receipts will likely be slightly higher than anticipated over the next two years, and that means $150 million dollars will go toward schools. About a quarter of the money will be used for all-day kindergartens, which are currently only offered in one forth of the state’s districts. Some of the money will also be used to give teachers merit raises.

The money will be paid over the next two years, when the education budget was previously set to be frozen.

Daniels says any additional tax revenue will be saved.

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Teach for America Coming to Appalachia

Three eastern Kentucky school districts have agreed to hire Teach for America instructors next fall. This will be the organization’s first operation in Kentucky and in Appalachia.

Teach for America places young teachers in impoverished and struggling schools, and about three fourths of the organization’s operations are in cities, the nearest being Nashville and Indianapolis.

Teach for America Appalachia will place 90 teachers in Martin, Floyd and Knox county schools over the next three years. Director Will Nash says he expects the partnership to extend beyond those three years, but not beyond Appalachia.

“Right now we’re focused on eastern Kentucky and we’re focused on our success there,” he says.

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Kentucky Youth Advocates Study Shows Variations in School Health Systems

A new study from Kentucky Youth Advocates shows that school health services for children vary significantly from district to district in the commonwealth.

KYA asserts that schools are the best places for children to receive certain types of medical attention, including as physical, dental and mental care. But not all districts provide each service.

Executive Director Terry Brooks says there’s no standard way for schools to pay for student health, and the methods use differ across the state. For example, in northern Kentucky, private donations pay for many services, though that can be problematic.

“That school nurse is only as good as the latest foundation grant. In other parts of Kentucky, you see extensive collaboration between health departments and public schools,” he says.

Brooks says Jefferson County Public Schools pays for many health services out of its operating budget, but that’s not always the case in the rest of central Kentucky, where Medicaid dollars are generally unavailable to school health workers.

“The Passport region is kind of like this hole in the doughnut where school districts are left to flounder for themselves because it’s difficult, in fact it’s impossible, to work out what we would consider common sense reciprocal agreements,” says Brooks.

Brooks is urging Governor Steve Beshear and the General Assembly to make it easier for Medicaid providers to administer care to students in schools. Brooks says that’s the best way to make sure students are cared for. A spokesperson for the governor’s office says they are reviewing the report. To read the study, click here (PDF).