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Four Interview for Board of Education Seat

by Stephanie Crosby

Four people interviewed this afternoon for a vacant seat on the Jefferson County Board of Education. The District One seat was left open after the sudden retirement of long-time member Ann Elmore.

The Department of Education must choose a successor to Elmore until a special election is held for the seat. Spokesperson Lisa Gross says it has assembled an interview panel of education experts, including a staff member from the education department and two board members from other school districts.

She says they’ll make a recommendation within a week to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

“It’s actually fairly rare that the commissioner doesn’t accept a recommendation from the panel,” says Gross. “I don’t recall a time in recent memory that he hasn’t accepted the panel’s recommendation. These panels do a pretty thorough job of interviewing and vetting these candidates, so really, they do the legwork up front.”

The four candidates for the seat are Diane Porter, Phyllis Morton, Bonnie Lash Freeman, and Attica Scott. All but Freeman have announced they’ll run for the seat in November’s general election.

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Kentucky Graduation, Dropout Rates Decrease in 2009

by Stephanie Crosby

Data compiled by the Kentucky Department of Education shows that the state’s high school students are graduating at a lower rate, but are also dropping out of school at a lower rate. The non-academic data was released in a report today.

Spokesperson Lisa Gross says dropout rates in Kentucky have declined by more than 1% since 2002.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” says Gross. “especially when the drop-out rate for African-American students is almost five-percent. We have a fairly small population of African-Americans in this state in our public schools. Five-percent of them are dropping out. That’s too much. hat’s too high. We need to address that.”

The numbers released today also show the graduation rate decreasing from 84.52% in 2008 to 83.91% last year. Retention rates – the number of students held back a grade – also increased by .2%.

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JCPS Board Approves School Improvement Plan

By Rick Howlett

The Jefferson County Board of Education has approved a plan aimed at improving six low-performing schools that were the target of a state leadership assessment.

After the intervention at Frost and Western Middle Middle Schools and Fern Creek, Shawnee, Valley and Western High Schools, state education officials gave JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman a list of options for improvement.

The plan includes replacing some teachers and taking over some site-based councils

Berman initially recommended the closure of Frost Middle School, but has reversed course because of time considerations.

That was good news to Frost PTA President Tonya Mobley (in photo, at podium).

“I just hope some of the change that will be made will be ones that Frost has long been asking for. We need funding. I cannot stress this enough. We need funding for athletic programs. Most of all we need to know that we have your support,” she said.

The board will appeal a state recommendation to reassign the principals at Fern Creek and Valley High Schools. The plan will make the schools eligible for millions of dollars in federal improvement funds.

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Six JCPS Schools To See Changes

By Rick Howlett

The Kentucky Department of Education has released its leadership assessments and recommendations for six low-performing public schools in Jefferson County.

The department has been conducting interventions at Frost and Western Middle Schools and Fern Creek, Shawnee, Western and Valley High Schools.

The recommendations include the restaffing of some teachers, replacing principals at four of the schools and transferring some school-based council authority to the superintendent.

JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman (pictured) says the district began working to turn around the schools as far back as three years ago.

He says he’ll appeal two of the principal reassignment recommendations but will move forward with a shake-up of faculty at all six schools.

“Our proposal varied from 14 percent at some schools to a little over 30 percent at others. It’s actually somewhat of a small staffing change,” Berman said.

Berman says on the positive side, the six schools are also getting millions of dollars under a federal grant program to help improve school performance.

Here is JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s statement regarding the assessments.

Statement from Superintendent Sheldon H. Berman regarding today’s release of the
Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Leadership Assessments for 6 JCPS schools.

“The Jefferson County Public Schools today received the results of the Kentucky
Department of Education’s leadership assessments for 6 schools that have not made the
required gains in academic achievement. The schools assessed are Frost and Western
Middle, Fern Creek, Shawnee, Western, and Valley High schools.

KDE’s recommendations include the restaffing of the certified employees, authority for the
Superintendent to pursue the hiring of new principals at 4 of the schools (Frost and
Western Middle, Fern Creek and Valley High schools), and the transfer of the school-based
council’s authority to the Superintendent. I anticipate appealing the reassignment of the
principals at Fern Creek and Valley High schools because I believe they are capable of
turning around their schools. Plans were already in place for the reassignment of both
middle school principals.

We started the turnaround at each of these schools either 2 or 3 years ago and we will
continue with our restructuring work because we are confident in the positive direction
these schools are moving. JCPS has thirty days to submit its appeal and KDE in turn has
another thirty days to respond.

District staff will continue to analyze the report and our options and will provide a full
report to the Board of Education at a special called meeting later this week. At Monday’s
regularly scheduled meeting, I will formally recommend to the Board that the District
appeal the recommendations regarding the principal reassignments.

To the school communities, I encourage you to stay focused on the remainder of the
school year. This is just the first step in a very long process.”

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Elmore Resigns, Holliday to Name Replacement

by Stephanie Crosby

Longtime Jefferson County School Board member Ann Elmore resigned her position last night, citing personal reasons. She’d been a member of the board for 16 years, and retired immediately, instead of in December as she’d planned.

State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday now will appoint a replacement. Spokesperson Lisa Gross says they’ll move quickly once they receive official notice of Elmore’s resignation.

“The statute gives us about 90 days to complete the process,” says Gross, “but we try to expedite it because it’s always a good idea to move forward with these kinds of activities so that school boards can have their full contingent when they’re trying to make decisions.”

Gross says they’ll take applications for two weeks from people interested in filling the position, then make a selection from there.

One person – Attica Scott – has filed to run for Elmore’s seat in the November election.

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Antivirus Glitch Causing Computer Problems

A glitch involving a popular computer anti-virus program is causing some problems across the country.

Many Kentucky public school districts are among those affected by the McAfee program glitch, which identifies a harmless Windows program as a virus and forces computers to shut down.

“A lot of school districts use McAfee. It’s a very popular program, a lot of individuals use it at home, a lot of businesses and corporations use it and have been very happy with it. It’s really kind of an anomoly as far as this episode goes. We don’t have these things occur very often and mcafee is a very reliable company,” said Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Lisa Gross.

Gross say McAfee has posted a temporary fix to the problem.

The glitch has also caused scattered problems elsewhere; a spokesperson in the Louisville mayor’s office tells the Courier-Journal it led to a minor disruption among Metro Government computers. Louisville Metro Police shut down their squad car computers as a precaution.

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Kentucky-In; Indiana-Out for Race to the Top Funds

Kentucky was on the list of 16 finalists the U.S. Department of Education announced today in the running for more than $4 billion in Race to the Top funds. But Indiana is out. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcement Thursday and said the department would interview representatives from the 16 finalists in mid March and announce the eventual winners in April.

Kentucky has applied for $200 million in Race to the Top funds. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says his department is already preparing for its presentation.

“What we’re doing is trying to make sure that we have all the right team members,” Holliday says. “And we’re looking at all the other applications and saying, what’s different about Kentucky that we can make sure to reinforce at the presentation, and just making sure that we have good, clear deployment plans ready to go to work.”

Holliday says the state’s application included a lot of work that is already underway.

“We have a very comprehensive reform package that was led pretty much by our reform legislation in 2009 called Senate Bill 1,” he says. “And it pretty much mirrored exactly what Race to the Top was looking for.”

Last year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 to revamp the state’s K-12 education system.

Some political observers and education experts had doubted that Kentucky would make the cut given that it doesn’t have a law allowing charter schools. Holliday says he didn’t see that as an obstacle.

“Our Kentucky Reform Act of 1990 actually created 1.200 charter schools in Kentucky,” he says. “All of our schools have site-based councils that are composed of parents and they make curriculum decisions. They hire the principal. We could find nothing that a charter school does that our site-based councils couldn’t already do.”

Holliday says the news is encouraging at a time when education is facing budget cuts.

Indiana, however, did not make the cut. Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett says he got the news via e-mail and Twitter messages. He says it was disappointing, especially after the state worked to meet criteria the federal education department gave states that applied. It included having charter schools and policies linking student data to teacher evaluations.

Bennett says the news doesn’t mean the Indiana plan is dead.

“We have told school corporations across the state of Indiana that we will implement this reform plan whether we are funded or not,” he says. “And the fact is we don’t believe money will solve the problem. What will solve the problem is for us to have the political courage, the political will to truly reform education in this state and we’re going to implement our reform agenda as we have planned.”

Bennett says he’s not sure how Indiana will handle its application in a second contest for funds due in June.

“We’re going to wait and see what we get back from the federal government, what feedback we get back from our technical advisors,” he says. “Obviously our interests will always be to pursue this reform money, but again, I’ll always back that up and say I don’t believe this is about money.”

Nearby states also on the list include Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois.

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More Kentucky Education Budget Cuts Planned

In response to Governor Steve Beshear’s directive to reduce spending by six percent, the Kentucky Department of Education has announced it plans to cut its budget by about $20 million over the rest of the fiscal year.

Department spokesperson Lisa Gross says the new round of cuts could be a burden on local school districts.

Gross says previous cuts involved Flexible Focus Funds, which cover areas such as professional development and textbooks but could be moved around by local districts to suit their needs.

“We’ve made so many cuts to those Flexible Focus Funds that now we’re having to start to look at other items in the education budget. Those include things like dropout prevention, gifted and talented, writing programs, math programs, reading programs, so on and so forth,” Gross said.

Gross says it hasn’t been determined yet which budget items will be cut, but a decision will come soon.

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Fewer Kentucky Schools Meeting NCLB Goals

Sixty-percent of Kentucky schools are meeting federal student performance goals, but that’s a lower percentage than last year.   

Under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, 60-percent of Kentucky’s more than 1,100 schools made Adequate Yearly Progress in numerous goals, including math and reading.  But that’s down from almost 73-percent in 2008.  Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says that’s probably because of constant adjustments to the goals.

“The bar just moved.  It moved ten points in math and seven or eight in reading, so the bar just moved,” Holliday said.

Almost 700 Kentucky schools met 100-percent of the NCLB goals, but 461 did not.  Some schools that failed to meet their goals will receive state assistance.  And in some cases, parents with children in schools that failed to meet their goals could seek to have their children transferred to better performing schools.

More information can be found here.

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Many Schools To Offer Alternatives To Obama Address

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is advising school superintendents to offer alternative activities for children whose parents don’t want them to watch a national address to students next week from President Obama.

Holliday told school chiefs in an e-mail obtained by the Courier-Journal that some districts have received requests from parents for such activities.          

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman is encouraging participation in the event, although the final decision will rest with individual schools or classes.

He says parents also have the option of asking that their children take part in another activity.

Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman says the president’s address won’t have any political content.

“Its’ a motivational talk to kids about the importance of getting a good education, so they can be competitive in a global economy, and talking about being respectful to their parents and those kinds of things,” he said.

Silberman says alternative activities will also be made available in his district.

Some parents have raised concerns about the president speaking directly to students.