Thefourth meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education was held on Monday, September 12, 2005, at 9:30 AM, in the library in Farmington Elementary School in Graves County, Kentucky. Senator Ken Winters, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Ken Winters, Co-Chair; Representative Frank Rasche, Co-Chair; Senators Alice Kerr, Gerald A Neal, R J Palmer II, Gary Tapp, Johnny Ray Turner, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Mike Cherry, Jim DeCesare, Ted "Teddy" Edmonds, C B Embry Jr, Bill Farmer, Reginald K Meeks, Harry Moberly Jr, Darryl T Owens, Tom Riner, Charles L Siler, and Arnold Simpson.
Guests: Mr. Tony Smith, Judge-Executive, Graves County; Mr. John Davis, Sheriff, Graves County; Mr. Howel Carr, Property Valuation Administrator, Graves County; Mr. Barry Kennemore, County Clerk, Graves County; Ms. Nedra Nall Shemwell, Circuit Clerk, Graves County; Judge Rick Johnson, Court of Appeals, Graves County; Ms. Donna Davenport, Executive Director, Mayfield-Graves County Chamber of Commerce; Mr. Chris O'Brien, Executive Director, Graves County Growth Alliance; Dr. King Alexander, President, Murray State University (MuSU); Dr. Bob Imhoff, President, Mid-Continent University; Dr. James Selbe, Provost, Western Kentucky Community and Technical College; Ms. Denise Whitaker, Ms. Kellie Wilford, Ms. Sheila Kaler, Farmington Elementary School; Ms. Tiffany Williams, Mr. Rim Watson, Ms. Clarke Waldrop, Mr. Colby Riley, and Mr. Manny Cortez, Graves County Middle School; Ms. Susan Higdon, Fancy Farm Elementary; Ms. Stephanie Sullivan, Central Elementary; Ms. Cheryl Goodman, Lowes Elementary School; Mr. Scott Wilford, Farmington School Board Decision-Making Council; Ms. Candace Johnson, Mr. Jamie Lopez, and Ms. Jennifer Tilford, Graves County High School; Ms. Lisa Gamble, Symsonia Elementary School; Ms. Judith Self, Ms. Kim Harrison, Mr. Ronnie Holmes, Mr. Donnie Reed, and Mr. Eddy Wright, Graves County Board of Education; Ms. Jill McClain, Cuba Elementary School; Ms. Sarah Saylor, Wingo Elementary School; Mr. Wayne Young, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; and Mr. Clyde Caudill, Jefferson County Public Schools and Kentucky Association of School Administrators.
Other Legislators: Representatives Fred Nesler and Perry Clark.
LRC Staff: Audrey Carr, Jonathan Lowe, Janet Stevens, Sandy Deaton, L.J. Tyree, Chris Schweickart, and Lisa Moore.
Senator Winters thanked the staff at Graves County schools and the community for their hospitality at the reception at Kenlake State Resort Park and at Farmington Elementary School. He extended a message from Representative Mobley that expressed his regret for not being in attendance due to an illness in his family. He also thanked Representative Nesler and Representative Clark for attending the meeting.
Representative Siler made a motion to approve the minutes from the August 29, 2005 meeting, and Senator Kerr seconded the motion. The motion was approved by voice vote.
Senator Winters said the subcommittee reports from the last meeting were in the members' folders. He also said that the Graves County school district ranks ninth in performance on the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) test out of 176 total school districts. He introduced Ms. Denise Whitaker, Principal, Farmington Elementary, who divided the members into groups to take a guided tour through the school led by gifted and talented student leader guides.
The meeting reconvened at 10:15 a.m. and members heard a performance by the middle school strings ensemble. Ms. Whitaker introduced the principals of the eight elementary schools in the Graves County School district. The eight elementary schools in the district include: Central Elementary, Cuba Elementary, Fancy Farm Elementary, Farmington Elementary, Lowes Elementary, Sedalia Elementary, Symsonia Elementary, and Wingo Elementary. A complete list of names is included under the guest section in the minutes. She said all the schools work together as a team, and teachers visit other schools in order to learn and share ideas. She said there are five early-release Wednesday meetings throughout the school year and all the teachers from each grade meet together to learn from each other.
Ms. Whitaker said the school district's main focus is that all children can learn. She said all children need one-on-one time, and small group instruction.
Ms. Whitaker said the teachers in Graves County work very hard to learn new strategies. The second grade class performed a demonstration for the members which demonstrated a technique taught by second grade teachers called "Tucker Signs." The students demonstrated hand movements for each of the 44 sounds.
Ms. Whitaker said Graves County takes advantage of daytime waivers in order to allow students to utilize extended school services during the school day for students who need extra time and attention to work on subject matters. She said Spanish is being taught three times a week for 15 minutes. Technology and broadcasting is also being taught daily and weekly across the elementary schools.
Ms. Sarah Saylor, Principal, Wingo Elementary, said building positive learning environments is very important. She said each morning students and teachers gather in the gym for morning assembly. Students are recognized for positive behavior and together the students and teachers build stronger relationships.
Ms. Jill McClain, Principal, Cuba Elementary School, said Cuba Elementary was noted for their test scores last year. Cuba Elementary participated in a scholastic review in 2004. The study looked at high-poverty, high-performing schools in Kentucky to determine how they break the usual pattern of low achievement. The findings of the scholastic review showed high expectations were communicated to all students, teachers, and staff. Cuba Elementary also demonstrated a strong focus on student learning. The research team also observed respectful relationships among adults between adults and students, and among students. A caring, nurturing environment was also evident, which related closely to high expectations. There were no reports of overload or teacher burnout. Teachers were reported to plan or change their instruction to meet the students' needs.
Ms. Whitaker discussed Sedalia Elementary and their musical performances. She said they have a keyboarding lab where students have their own keyboard to work on during class.
Ms. Whitaker said the high school jazz band visits the elementary schools. The members teach the elementary students about the instruments and how to play them. She said students in Graves County also learn the elements of art and dance.
Ms. Whitaker said health awareness is a major focus in Graves County. Physical fitness and healthier snack choices have been changes implemented to create healthier children. Students are exposed to more physical activity each week, including incorporating physical activity into the instructional learning strategies in the classroom.
Ms. Whitaker said family resource centers are another component of Graves County schools. The family resource centers help students that have family needs, and are instrumental in inviting the community and parents in for instructional programs.
Ms. Whitaker said the communities are very important to the elementary schools. Reading coaches work one-on-one with students each week. She said parent volunteers help students improve their skills, and each parent and teacher organization (PTO) works to support the respective schools.
Ms. Whitaker said family reading night and blood drives are other examples of how the schools and the community work together as a team to develop strong relationships. She said the schools deliver lunches to people in the community, as well as host a grandparents' breakfast. She also said technology is the future of the country, and the elementary schools focus on technology.
Representative Simpson asked what the typical classroom size is at the elementary schools. Ms. Whitaker said 18 to 20 students per classroom in primary, and 22 or 23 students per classroom in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. She said if class sizes grow larger, they utilize a school improvement teacher.
Ms. Whitaker said Farmington Elementary has provided preschool for the last four years for three and four year olds. She said the program has been very beneficial for the students as they learn about sitting still, reading, and learning the alphabet. The Farmington Elementary preschool program sang about shapes using sign language.
Staff from the Graves County Middle School gave a presentation about a student's view of learning. Ms. Tiffany Williams, Assistant Principal, Graves County Middle School, said there are 700 students in just the seventh and eighth grades at the school. Students are divided into six teams or families and the goal is for them to be on that team both years of their middle school experience. She introduced Ms. Clarke Waldrop, Mr. Colby Riles, and Mr. Manuel Cortez, super star students, who made presentations on various aspects of the school.
Ms. Waldrop said Graves County Middle School teachers use effective teaching strategies to help students learn. They include: 1) problem-based learning; 2) project design; 3) cooperative learning; 4) instructional technology; and 5) student as teacher.
Mr. Riley explained the "No Excuse Policy", which means a student must complete any assignment given by the teacher with no excuses for not completing it. The work a student turns in must be at a proficient level, if it is not, the student must revise it until it is at a proficient level. If a student does not turn in an assignment, the teacher will record an "I" for incomplete in the grade book until the assignment is turned in and a grade is assigned.
Mr. Cortez discussed the literacy policy at Graves County Middle School. He said students have reading materials at all times because there is no such thing as downtime at Graves County. He said teachers read orally to students weekly, and a student's goal is to ready at least 50 pages of reading a day. He said Graves County Middle School was the winner of the national scholastic book fair in 2004.
Ms. Williams said Graves County Middle School had a 2004 accountability index of 89.4, and ranked as the top middle school in Region 1. She said the scores tie in directly with the mission statement of the school, which is to do what is best for the students.
Mr. Rim Watson, Principal, Graves County Middle School, said there is a tremendous amount expected of teachers. Teacher are required for the learning of all students in their world. His concern is that the highest quality of applicants needs to enter into the education field. He needs a pool of highly qualified teachers to interview and hire.
Ms. Jennifer Tilford, forensics coach, Graves County High School, presented to the committee. She said forensics is competitive speaking and drama, and Graves County High School has a very successful forensics program with about 60 students participating. She then introduced Ms. Candace Johnson and Mr. Jamie Lopez who gave a forensics performance to the members.
Mr. Ward Bushart, Principal, Graves County High School, said the school has an award winning broadcast and journalism department. He said it had been picked in the state to be the best in that area for the last six years. He then showed members a video that highlighted the Graves County High School programs.
Mr. Bushart said Graves County High School opened in 1985 with 1,156 students, and now there are 1,375 students with about 27 students per class. He explained that the Freshman Academy has about 380 students and has been in operation for about five years and they have fewer than 27 students per class. He said the Advanced Placement program has 19 classes with an enrollment of approximately 450 students. He also mentioned the Murray State University College Bridge Program.
Mr. Bushart discussed extracurricular activities at Graves County High School. He said there are 19 athletic teams, and noted that one-in-four students are involved in the performing arts. He said there are 28 clubs and organizations.
Mr. Bushart said Graves County High School had received numerous awards and honors. They include: 1) Kentucky High School Journalism Competition Grand Champion - journalism department; 2) WGCE, the school's television station, repeats for the sixth time as state champion; 3) Forensics team is third in the state; 4) Family and Consumer Science program has two national champions; 5) CATS scores ranked among the best in region and state; 6) ACT scores exceed the state average and tie the national average; and 7) Cheerleaders are the state champions and ranked fourth in the nation.
Dr. Alexander said MuSU's graduation rates are above the national average, and about 15 points above the state average. He also said MuSU has been recognized as one of twelve universities nationwide to be a model for the rest of the country. He said successful graduation rates, however, begin in the public schools, and 80 percent of the teachers as well as many of the administrators in Graves County are graduates of MuSU.
Dr. Alexander said the systemic link MSU has to the public schools is vital to the success of the university, and more importantly, vital to the region in terms of economic and social development. He said MSU is the first university in the state to place all of its professors in the public schools. He said four or five faculty members are paid out of the ROADS scholar program to continually talk to juniors and seniors and advise them on their futures as to whether they should attend college. He also noted that 31 percent of the students in the area are Pell grant eligible students, and one-third are first generation students.
Dr. Alexander discussed the Bridge Program, and gave credit to Principal Bushart and Mr. Brady Link, Superintendent, Graves County Schools for the idea of bringing seniors who are bored over to MSU's campus in order for them to take courses that could augment their senior year courses. He said it was wonderful idea and there are currently 14 students that are transported over from Graves County High School to take courses on MSU's campus. He said many seniors are not sure whether they can succeed in college or not, and need the confidence to know that they can blend into the college community. This gives them the experience of their first and second semesters during their high school senior year. He hopes to expand the program in the near future and anticipates that other high schools in the region will piggyback off this concept.
Ms. Carla Whitis, Assistant Principal, Graves County High School, discussed future needs for Graves County High School. She said the classrooms of today and tomorrow should meet certain criteria. They should: 1) be student focused; 2) engage in project-based activities; 3) have an integrated curriculum; 4) provide multiple resources; 5) incorporate problem solving; 6) provide interaction with experts; 7) have a performance-based assessment; 8) provide virtual labs; 9) provide writing workshops; and 10) be a primary resource.
Ms. Whitis said professional development for teachers is probably the greatest need. They need more time for professional development in order to incorporate the above concepts within the classrooms, and get students ready to compete in the 21st century. In Graves County, the belief is that teachers influence learning more than any other factor.
Mr. Link mentioned the only charge for students to attend MuSU's Bridge Program is $100 for the course. He said this is significant because a regular college course normally costs $600. He said Dr. Alexander is making a sacrifice for high school students to attend MuSU during their senior year and receive college credit.
Mr. Link said the philosophy in Graves County is to have fun with the students. He said every school day is taken very seriously and teachers give students their all for 175 days a year. He also said strong leaders make a difference in being successful, and the principals in the schools in Graves County should be commended in developing some high-achieving goals and aspirations.
Mr. Link said all students can learn. He said all students are engaged authentically, and the school system does not tolerate students leaving school. He said research shows that students who are engaged in school typically do not leave. Finally, he said the schools, parents, and the communities help students to achieve. He said this task cannot be left up to the teachers alone. He said school staff make a point to go into the community and visit every parent of every student in their school.
Mr. Tommy Scott, Secondary Instructional Supervisor, presented the three R's of education, which are rigor, relevance, and relationships. He said the instructional leadership team is a unique piece of the puzzle to the Graves County school system's success. He said 22 teachers and administrators across the district lead the team and it is supported with project money. He said Graves County is one of five districts in the state with a SAELP project studying leadership, and is the only district of the five, which is looking at teacher leadership.
Mr. Scott said the teacher leaders and administrators in the district are working together to present the new initiatives looking at student work and individual student achievement. He said professional development in Graves County is long-range, connected, and focused on individual student learning.
Ms. Kim Harrison, Elementary Instructional Supervisor, said she has been a practicing principal on the leadership team for four years. As a result of the district leadership team, there is a culture of shared leadership that exhibits professionalism and collegiality. She said the team teacher leaders of the district leadership team play a significant role in hiring new teachers in helping with the screening process, the reference checking, and interviews. Teacher leaders are also empowered to assist in the development of new teachers.
Ms. Harrison said professional development has evolved into a data driven decision-making process in Graves County. The data is tied specifically to the schools and used for building comprehensive school improvement plans, dealing with challenges that arise from the No Child Left Behind program, and closing gender gaps.
Ms. Harrison said Graves County believes in a team mentality. She said the mission and beliefs of the schools are manifested in everything the schools do. She said Graves County exists in a culture that encourages risk taking and the freedom to fail. She said customization is important in learning what works. Great gains can be made in a student's life when needs are dealt with specifically and individually. She said that educator collaboration is important, and not only do the schools intermix, but they visit other districts as well to get new ideas. Finally, she said the dream team in Graves County consists of the schools, parents, and the communities working together.
Ms. Jennifer Smith, Director of Pupil Personnel, spoke to the committee about sensitive issues. She said the school system is seeing more and more students who need more assistance than what the classroom can provide. She said relationships are key in helping students who come from unhealthy homes be successful. She said these students need someone to believe in them.
Ms. Smith said not all of Graves County students are at-risk. She said all students, no matter what kind of home they are from, need to know that someone in the school cares about them and their success. She said the old philosophy of treating all students the same, and giving out the same punishments, is in the past. Students have individual needs and should be treated differently based upon the situation.
Ms. Smith then gave some specific examples of students in the Graves County School System who have had sensitive issues arise such as homelessness and drug addicted parents. She played an audio message from a student to a youth services center worker's cell phone at 1:15 a.m. She said the youth services workers and family resource centers are crucial to provide an avenue for help for many students.
Senator Winters asked Graves County staff to comment on Standard and Poor's study of over-performing schools. Mr. Link said their were eighteen school districts in the Commonwealth who were recognized for out-performing their expected levels of achievement. He said Graves County was one district of eighteen who out-performed what people expected it to accomplish. He said Owen County Schools, whose superintendent, Mr. Mark Cleveland, was in attendance at the meeting, received the same honor.
Senator Neal congratulated the school on their hard work, which has paid off in big dividends. He said the stories heard here today were very inspiring and the excitement in the room was overwhelming. He asked staff if they found pockets of missing information when disaggregating data in schools, segment of schools, or one of the categories outlined in Senate Bill 168.
Ms. Harrison said they most definitely see gaps in each school, and the gaps are different in each school. She said these gaps are tied to the comprehensive school improvement plan, and embedded in the professional development planned for that year. She said, for example, her school had a significant difference between the achievement levels of males and females of 18 to 20 points. She said in studying the learning styles between males and females, and performing subsequent studies as well as reviewing anecdotal records, it was obvious the school was instructing to the female gender learning styles more so than to the male. The school geared professional development to study of how males learn differently, and within two years, the gap closed to two points. She said this is how Graves County looks at its data and applies it to instruction and professional development.
Representative Cherry discussed the concept of teaching Spanish fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, and wondered what the percentage of students was in the school district in which English is not their first language. Also, if students come in with no English skills at all, how would Graves County handle the situation?
Ms. Harrison said two to three percent of the student population are Hispanic. As far as receiving students with absolutely no English, that is not happening like it did several years ago. Most of the Hispanic students that enroll are fluent in English, or at least know some English.
Mr. Scott said the English as a Second Language program has over 100 students currently enrolled and they are all at different levels, with a few having no English skills. He said there is staff that work with these students in the classroom and they are also pulled out of class for additional help depending upon their level of need. He said they have trouble finding people certified to work with these students, but currently have three on staff qualified.
Ms. Stephanie Sullivan, Principal, Central Elementary, said her school was only established in 2004, but has the largest minority rate in the district with approximately 12 percent in the minority category. She said about 40 students are Hispanic, which equates to 10 percent of the population. She said they have Spanish classes three times a week, and the ESL instructor works with the students and the needs of the family by offering classes in the school for parents.
Representative Embry commended the staff on their efforts to contact parents. He said the school efforts will fail if the parents do not buy into the importance of their children excelling and graduating from high school, and then moving on into postsecondary education. He would like to see every school district contacting the parents of all students.
Mr. Link said Graves County believes that parents are a central part of a child's successful education experience, and the school staff believes it is their duty to train parents about the importance of an education for their children. He said parents must be helped to understand how important education is in order for the schools to get the maximum effort from each student.
Representative Meeks said he is not surprised by the progress in Graves County. He has spent a great deal of time in western Kentucky and knows the value that parents, students, and the community place on education. He said he had wished the committee could have heard from Mayfield Independent schools as well.
Mr. Link said Graves County has a cooperative relationship with Mayfield Independent schools, but they are a separate district even though the two districts share some programs such as the alternative school, the Gateway Academy. He said they are a great school system as well.
In reviewing a handout, Representative Meeks said math and science were not listed as core subjects being taught in Graves County Middle School. Mr. Watson said math and science are part of the core subjects being taught at the middle school and it must be a misprint on the handout.
Senator Winters recognized all the presenters from Graves County and showed his appreciation for members and staff traveling to be in attendance. He reminded members of the next meeting at Natural Bridge State Park and Owsley County Schools on October 10, 2005.
With no further business before the committee, the meeting adjourned at 12:15 p.m. to have lunch with the sixth graders in the cafeteria.