Appalachian News-Express, Pikeville, Dec. 14, 2016
Leaders of BHS, BMS address Pike BOE
Schools were the only two in district labeled as ‘Needs Improvement’
BY CHASE ELLIS
The site-based decision-making councils of Belfry High and Belfry Middle Schools appeared at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Pike County Schools Board of Education to present steps they are taking to improve the schools’ respective accountability grades.
The schools were the only two in the county school system to be labeled as Needs Improvement this year following the return of the 2016 State Accountability Results.
Despite the Needs Improvement label, BMS Principal Jeremy Howard pointed out some strengths from his school, including a Top-25 scoring Social Studies department and moving 20 percent of students in each grade from Apprentice to Proficient.
But, Howard acknowledged the areas in which the school did not succeed on the testing.
“When I took this job roughly three years ago, the fi rst thing I did was dove into our data … I felt like, overall, we had some underachieving students, the work ethic that was needed to be High Performing wasn’t there,” said Howard. “What I had hoped was that we move those kids forward, push them to exhibit the work ethic I knew they had in them. Then, that would trickle down to some of our gap students. Obviously, we did not quite reach the goal that I had.”
Howard said that the Novice students at BMS grew by 2 percent, a stat “that is not going to happen again. It should not ever happen.”
“We kind of rolled the dice and put trust in that, if we push them, then everybody would get on board with us,” said Howard. “(Novice reduction) is an area that we are focused on. Since day one of the school year, our entire school goal in to bring those students.”
As part of the school’s 45/45/90-day plan, Howard said, the school leadership team made the decision that improving 20 percent of students in each grade from Novice to Apprentice in math would decrease the Novice percentage from 72 percent to 35 percent.
Howard spoke on the steps being taken by BMS in the mathematics department, including new textbooks, a new supplemental program and an additional instructor. The new textbook, Howard said, is a better text book with a better online program along with better workbooks for in-school and at-home work.
“In September, we purchased a program called IXL Learning, an online program. It allows students to work at home on skills they are not necessarily mastering. It charts their progress and provides immediate feedback to the student and the teacher” said Howard.
Howard said they also added a second eighth-grade math teacher and the school is focusing on making sure students are assessment literate.
“Too many times in the past I would pass a kid in the hallway and say to them, ‘Hey, what’d you all work on in class today?’ and they’d say, ‘Well, we worked on page 57 to 58,’” said Howard. “That is not what we want our kids saying. We want them to know what you are expecting them to learn.”
The SDMC teachers, Social Studies teachers Christina Jewell and Boo Hager and Special Education teacher Kathy Spencer, each spoke on behalf of the benefi ts the new learning targets will have.
“This shows our students’ areas of strengths and weaknesses and we know exactly what we need to focus on in the classroom to improve their scores,” said Jewell.
Hager added, “We get that immediate feedback and then, we know if a student is close, and letting them know they are close. That has already made a difference and we are hoping the results will show.”
Pike County Schools Superintendent Reed Adkins spoke with the SDMC during the meeting.
“Truly, I have heard several things that I wanted to hear that tells me you guys are serious about getting where you need to be. I hear your thoughts on MAP testing, about ‘hotlisting’ students (to focus on), the conversations you are having with your staff, I know they are going to pay off,” said Adkins. “I am very proud of the gains you guys have made at Belfry Middle. I think you guys will be just fine next year.”
Howard told Adkins, “If we are up here next year, it won’t be because we didn’t work hard and get after it.”
Belfry High School Principal Mark Gannon spoke about some of the improvements his school has already seen this year compared to last year.
One of the main goals the staff at Belfry had for this school year was to improve the overall attendance of the students. Gannon told the board that, as of November, the attendance for the school was at 94 percent, an improvement.
“Our numbers for college-ready (students) are up. As of this week, 53 of 125 students have met all three benchmarks, 24 have met two and 13 have met one,” said Gannon. “That is a higher percentage at this time of the year over last year. We are very hopeful. Our prediction numbers, which we will have at the end of the month, we will predict about 65 or 66 kids being college ready, that is a lofty goal for us.”
Other numbers Gannon highlighted were 51 career ready seniors as well as 72 percent of his student population participating in an extra-curricular activity. As for moving forward, Gannon said BHS, like much of the state, will be focusing on gap students and novice reduction.
“In our school, novice reduction hit us in the face hard. That was probably a lack of understanding how that was going to hit us,” said Gannon. “On our five-year trend (report), in the non-duplicated gap scores, our reading and math, over the last three years, those numbers have actually increased. We are not where we need to be yet, but we are seeing a steady increase.”
Gannon spoke about the six Advanced Placement classes, five dual-credit classes, two aerospace classes with 161 students being taught foreign language, by one teacher, as part of the “rigorous opportunities” offered by BHS.
“Last year, we had four or five students in our dual-credit Algebra with UPike, this year that number is up to 18. Looking at those opportunities we provide our students, we are attempting to provide a wide variety of courses they could take to meet the different needs they may be interested in,” said Gannon.
Changes that have been made at BHS, according to Gannon, include weekly common planning for the four core areas of Science, Math, English and Social Studies, tweaking how they look at information to focus on the student and calling home on students who may be failing courses.
“For the first time this year, in October, we did support and help for our English teachers,” said Gannon. “We did a on-demand diagnostic assessment. We pulled up old questions and prompts to test our sophomores and juniors in on-demand writing.”
Adkins again addressed the SDMC during the meeting, highlighting the fact that BHS had the highest average ACT score in the school system despite testing the lowest on the Accountability Results.
“Your teacher effectiveness shows what a great staff that you have. The culture at Belfry is second-to-none,” said Adkins. “Looking at the last four years, you have moved from the 17th percentile up to the 60th-plus percentile. Very proud of the attendance and I know how hard you’ve worked to get there. With all that being said, it bothers me that you all do have that label (of Needs Improvement). You guys are doing great things over there and I would like to see it removed.”