Action plan to address issues at LCMS presented to BOE

Published 6:50 am Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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An overview of issues identified in a recent academic audit of the Lincoln County Middle School (LCMS) was given to school board members during the May 5 working meeting, as well as a plan of action to correct those issues.

The Interior Journal published an article detailing findings from the audit in the previous edition. Click here to read it.

To read both the full academic audit and action plan in PDF documents, scan the QR codes with your phone camera.

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“As you all know we’ve been looking at the middle school and we’ve been making some changes and one of the things that we did recently is an academic review where we had an outside company come in and look at the things we were doing at the middle school from an instructional standpoint, behavioral standpoint, system standpoint and make some recommendations or at least highlight some things that we needed to pay attention to as we move forward…,” said Dr. Chris Murray, director of secondary schools, during the Lincoln County Board of Education May 5 working meeting.

The review by Educational Directions placed areas that need improvement into different categories, Murray said.

Key areas that the academic review focused on were school leadership, school culture and climate, student behavior, teacher work, student work, test preparation, student engagement and special education status.

“The initial study showed evidence of underperformance and/or inconsistent performance on state and school assessment reports, high levels of teacher turnover, reliance on a curriculum platform that may not be congruent to the language and levels of rigor found in the state standards, special education and underperforming student performance patterns, and a data management system that may not represent the format or rigor found in the state assessments,” the review states.

Murray said the review recommended more “school-wide positive behavior supports.”

“Those aren’t really there currently,” Murray said. “A consistent school-wide behavior plan. We had some teachers that talk about behavior being different for different students. We had different students being punished on different levels depending on who they were or things of that nature; so there’s some consistency issues with our behavior plan.”

The review also recommended an increase in hallway supervision and common spaces, as well as standardized classroom expectations.

Murray said the current curriculum at the Middle School is Summit Learning.

“Summit Learning is an online platform that has kind of been taken as a “curriculum in a box” for the middle school. Based on what this review says, the current curriculum that is being used is not being taught to the rigor of Kentucky state standards,” Murray told board members. “There’s a lot of reasons for that; part of it has to do with training of teachers, part of it has to do with the curriculum itself and how it’s designed. It’s based on these big projects that don’t provide a lot of the background information that they need in order to be successful with those projects. Teachers were…using it as a curriculum-in-a-box rather than using their own work and building lessons around them.”

The curriculum and instruction is not aligned with state assessments, Murray said.

“Academic expectations are low and those academic expectations must increase in order for students’ achievement to increase,” he said. “One of the things that the academic review said was that we have incredibly compliant students. That’s a big deal because what that means is they’re going to rise to the expectations that we set.”

Right now the expectations aren’t where they need to be, Murray said. There were also recommendations for professional development, he said.

“We have a lot of teachers that are ‘emergency certified’ or in the early parts of their career. We’ve had a lot of teacher turnover,” Murray said. “So, a lot of our teachers need to be taught how to be teachers.”

Murray said each teacher does have a mentor.

“That system is in place, it just needs to be fine-tuned significantly,” he said.

Teachers are relying on the Summit curriculum, he said, so they don’t understand the depths of the standards, themselves.

“So if our teachers don’t understand the depth of the standards themselves, how can they teach our students the depths of the standard? So they need to do curriculum work, unpack those standards, do that curriculum planning themselves so that they understand the standards fully so that they can teach our students to the level that they need to,” Murray said.

The school’s assessments that were reviewed by Educational Directions were not aligned with the state testing model in format or structure.

“From a data analysis standpoint, we rely heavily on relationships as a staff,” Murray said. “We have really good relationships with our students, our teachers do. But that data analysis piece in our professional learning communities is not where it needs to be in order to focus on the needs of our students from an academic perspective.”

“Response intervention” is something that elementary schools have started doing well, he said.

“At the middle school we have interventions and we have kind of an intervention program going but it’s not very well defined,” Murray said. “It’s focused on a pull-out method of pulling students out of class, but there’s not really a high-structure to it. So our students are not getting regular intervention. In order to provide them with regular intervention we have to build a master schedule, we have to have a particular program that we’re using and we have to review the data on a regular basis. None of those things are currently there.”

The Special Education program at the middle school is not reaching the students that have the most needs, Murray said.

“Our primary co-teaching model…we are largely using the one-teach, one-assist model, which really should only be used for collecting data, that should not be your primary model. So really what it’s kind of looking like, if you walk into a classroom you see whole class instruction, one teacher is teaching and a Special Ed teacher is making sure that people are on task. That’s not co-teaching. That’s not providing for the needs of the Special Ed students and that’s not differentiating.”

Murray was recently asked to fill in as principal of LCMS for a brief time following the former principal’s resignation and during that time he said there was not a behavior intervention plan for the highest need behavior students.

“Behavior intervention plans had not been put in place and those that were put in place were not being implemented at the level that we need them to be,” he said.

Action Plan

Murray presented an action plan to board members during the May 5 working meeting.

“So I’ve written a plan…and there are areas for curriculum support, behavior support, response to intervention, special ed support and leadership support,” he said.

For curriculum and instruction, Murray said he has been talking to the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

“There’s a three-day teacher workshop over the summer that’s going to focus on powerful instructional practices, how to yield instructional strategies with all of our teachers,” he said.

SREB will also provide on-site coaching, observations and professional development for two days every other month throughout the 2022-23 school year.

The curriculum will move away from Summit Learning, Murray said, and focus on building curriculum that aligns with the state standards.

Several curriculum development workshops have been scheduled, he said.

The school has also hired a math interventionist to create a math curriculum and strategy for school-wide improvement, according to the action plan.

The reading and writing curriculum also needs improvement, Murray said, and he has recommended a program called ThinkCERCA which provides cross curriculum reading and writing benchmark assessments.

“They offer three benchmark writing assessments per year, and then there are professional graders. The professional graders grade the benchmarks, they teach our teachers how to grade the benchmarks and then they provide professional development to our teachers on how to see that data…and then what to do with our students to get their writing to improve,” Murray said.

School wide behavior and supervision could be improved by the creation of a Dean of Students position, according to the action plan.

“The reason why that’s necessary is because of the fact that Lincoln County Middle School is two buildings,” he said. “It’s a sprawling campus, supervision is a problem and what ends up happening is we’re pulling instructional coaches and counselors and various other people to do supervision duties which means they can’t do the job that they’re hired to do.”

The school also needs to develop consistent behavior expectations and define expectations across all areas of the middle school, the action plan states.

“The student handbook needs a pretty significant revision,” Murray said. “One that’s simplified and consistent.”

For response intervention, Murray said the program iReady provides reading and math intervention programs as well as data analysis and a teacher toolkit for targeted instructional practices.

iReady can also help with issues identified in the Special Education program, he said.

A consultant will also be hired to help coach Special Education teachers approximately two days per week.

“We had six ‘emergency certified’ Special Education teachers at the middle school last year, which means they had no background in education so that’s a problem,” Murray said. “So bringing in a consultant to come in two days a week throughout the school year to help with IEP writing, help coach our teachers how to teach…”

The school will also provide co-teaching training.

The action plan also calls for improving leadership support, particularly principal support.

“Being a principal is hard and there’s a lot of things that you just don’t know and you need help,” Murray said. “SREB provides some leadership support and leadership coaching as well, eight coaching sessions throughout the 2022-23 school year.”

Those sessions will help develop plans that will have a positive impact on students, he said.

School board members said the plan was comprehensive and organized.

“I appreciate your hard work,” said Board Member Ricky Lane.

Murray said the school is attempting to do a five-year turnaround in one year.

“…and I think we can do it,” he said. “I think our students are primed and ready for it and I think our staff is primed and ready for it. We’re going to throw everything at it that we can.”

Board Member Etta Meek asked if the staff was anxious about all of the changes being made.

“I think they’re ready,” Murray said. “…Our staff is ready to improve.”