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Spring PEAK Award

Home visit sign
Newport PEAK-winning program builds teacher-student relationships
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2018
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer

Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Kelly Middleton said his district believes relationships trump everything. To enhance the relationships between teachers and their students and parents, Newport began its Home Visit Program in 2012.

All 2,000 Newport students receive a visit from their teacher prior to the new school year. All staff also participate. The program has helped the district build relationships and connections among the community, and has resulted in an increase in parent/guardian and community involvement, and fewer discipline referrals for students. The efforts have also earned the district KSBA’s Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award.

The PEAK Award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning skills and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.

“This is a great program and board buy-in is excellent,” wrote PEAK judge Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County Schools and a previous PEAK winner.
Newport Independent teachers Holly Owens and Elle Ventre visit with Dottie Farrell and students Keegan Farrell and Addison Wright as part of the district’s Home Visit Program. (Photo courtesy of Newport Independent Schools)
Kimberly Mullins-Ward, a parent of three students in the district, said the program is more than just a visit. “It’s a way for me to connect with the people that will be spending a great deal of time with my children over the course of the school year. It is an opportunity to discuss with teachers what I feel my children need to be academically and socially successful in our own home,” she wrote in a letter for the program’s nomination.

The program was developed after the school board, superintendent and district administrators noticed what they felt was a growing problem – a major disconnect between teachers and the community. In its PEAK nomination, the district noted the need for the program was evidenced by poor student/teacher relationships, low attendance and many student behavioral issues.

“It is difficult to put a number on a relationship objective; however, our school board would tell you it is one of the best programs ever initiated in this district,” the PEAK nomination said.
Newport Independent teachers Holly Owens and Elle Ventre visit with Dottie Farrell and students Keegan Farrell
and Addison Wright as part of the district’s Home Visit Program. (Photo courtesy of Newport Independent Schools)

Newport Independent school board Chair Ramona Malone, who is also a member of KSBA’s board of directors, said the board is honored and proud to receive the award.
“The Home Visit Program is one of the many tools we use to build relationships with our students and their families,” Malone said. “The program helps us achieve our equity goals and to make our school community extraordinary. You can’t meet the needs of your students and families if you don’t know the need.”

Middleton was assistant superintendent at Mason County Schools when that district started a home visit program, which won it the Magna Award from the National School Boards Association. When he was hired at Newport in 2012, he pitched the idea to his board. 

He said the program is meaningful for the Newport teachers, students and community because fewer than 10 of the district’s approximately 160 teachers live in Newport. With 92 percent of its students on free/reduced lunch and teachers who are in a higher socioeconomic bracket, it’s “important for our teachers to see where our children come from and where they live,” Middleton said.

“We do believe it has helped,” he said. “We believe a couple of things – we’ve retained more students, we’ve got students back to our district, we feel like our teachers have a lot more empathy for our students, we’ve had declining discipline referrals. There’s just a lot of positives from this.”
Newport Independent Superintendent Kelly Middleton talks to students during a home visit prior to the school year beginning. (Photo courtesy of Newport Independent Schools)
The district compared TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Kentucky Survey results before and after the program. Results show parent/guardian involvement has increased more than 15 percent, community involvement has increased more than 30 percent and students’ understanding of expectations regarding conduct has increased 25 percent, thus resulting in fewer discipline referrals.

Middleton noted the district’s efforts to build relationships and familiarity goes beyond the home visit program. At the end of each school year, students spend one day in the classroom they will have the next year. Those who will be transitioning from primary to intermediate, or from intermediate to high school are bused to their future school.

“If you’re going to lose students to charters or privates, this is a way maybe to get them excited about their next year’s teacher and maybe it’s a little harder to pull our kids away,” he said.
Newport Independent Superintendent Kelly Middleton talks to students during a home visit
prior to the school year beginning. (Photo courtesy of Newport Independent Schools)

During the home visits, teachers are asked to not recite rules or regulations for the classroom, but to simply introduce themselves, get to know the students and parents, and find out any concerns the parents might have or if there are any obstacles that could affect a student’s performance. “It’s really a time to get to know the child,” Middleton said.

“We believe (the program) puts us way ahead because we already know so much about each child. It probably takes other school districts a month to figure out, and we’ve already got that information,” he said.

If the student and/or parent are not home at the time of the visit, teachers are instructed to do at least one follow-up to meet at a different time. 

The school board approved paying teachers $250 when their home visits are completed, and the district also pays for printing business cards, door hangers and yard signs. Pompilio’s Restaurant, owned by two Newport High School alumni, donate brunch to all teachers prior to the visits.

In a letter for the program’s PEAK nomination, teachers Samantha Grayson and Bonnie Stacey wrote that “home visits allow us to take that first step to building strong, successful and proactive relationships with our students and families.”

They wrote that it makes the students “more comfortable on the first day because they know a friendly face awaits their arrival; they know they have a mentor who is there to answer their questions, provide support, and advocate on their behalf.”

The teachers also wrote that building the relationship between a parent or guardian makes communication better, which benefits the student’s success.

“Relationships pave the way for success in the classroom,” Grayson and Stacey wrote. “It is imperative that students know the adults at school care about them, believe in them, and have high expectations for them.”
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