By CHRIS HARRIS
Terry Holliday knows how to connect with today’s youth: Just mention Twitter.
The Commissioner of Education in Kentucky drew big laughs from the assembly of Pulaski County High School students on Tuesday when he told them he’d “tweet” a picture of the sign behind him, one proclaiming academic success for the school, to others who might think it’s not possible for themselves.
“I’ll be sitting with the governor, and he’ll say, ‘This school district, this superintendent, these school board members are telling me that you’re pushing them too hard,’” said Dr. Holliday, “that they can’t do it, that their kids can’t achieve at high levels. I’ll be in a legislative hearing, and one of the senators will look at me and say, ‘Dr. Holliday, you’re picking on our school district. They can’t have as many kids graduate because they’ve got so many challenges.
“You know what I’m going to do?” he continued. “I’m going to take a picture of your banner up here. I’m going to tweet it (and) I’m going to send it to all of those people today. They read my tweets.
“The next time I’m sitting in front of senators and House members and the governor, I’m going to tell them, ‘I hear what you’re saying, but there’s a school in southeastern Kentucky that did it. ... Their numbers aren’t just a little better, they’re leading. They’re in the top 10 in this state for the progress and overall college- and career-readiness and graduation rates.”
Pulaski County High School was recognized as a “Hub” school this year for “continuous improvement in student learning and doing core processes that can sustain improvement,” according to associate education commissioner Dr. Kelly Foster.
“Based on data, monitoring visits, and monitoring schools, KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) has designated Pulaski County High School as a hub school,” said Foster. “You guys have doubled your college- and career-readiness rates by 20 points since 2011, and it’s a huge accomplishment.”
As a Hub School, PCHS will serve as a regional hub of learning for students and adults, according to the KDE, and will best or promising practices with other schools in their area of the state to help those institutions experience improvement.
Hub schools also aim to create action steps connected whatever specific purpose is identified, and develop a system focused on aligned planning, communication, marketing, and effectiveness measures.
Franklin-Simpson High School in Franklin, Ky., was the other school to receive the Hub designation. PCHS was notified of their Hub status earlier this year.
KDE selected PCHS based on factors including superintendent and district-level support, strong leadership, and communication with stakeholders. The school’s understanding of the turnaround process also played a significant role, according to KDE.
Pulaski County High School Principal Mike Murphy also addressed the students in the auditorium Tuesday. Murphy was sent to the high school to take over in May of 2012 after the state recommended a change in leadership based on low “No Child Left Behind” test scores.
His time at PCHS has seen a remarkable turnaround as the state has embraced a new student assessment system based on preparing students to succeed in both college and in the job market, where it ranked in the 82nd percentile — good for a place in the Commonwealth’s elite.
Murphy thanked the work of administrators, staff, school board, parents, and of course students, in making the reversal of fortunes possible.
“Our students have worked hard and see the importance of their efforts,” said Murphy. “Our mission ... has become a reality for every student. Students are now closely watching their own data and asking, ‘What can I do to improve?’”
Despite their improvements, neither PCHS nor Franklin-Simpson will be eligible to exit the “Priority School” status — that is, one that was in the troubling position Pulaski County was over a year ago — as of this fall since they are required to meet their Annual Measurable Objective for three consecutive years, which will not occur until after the 2014-15 school year at the earliest, according to KDE. The department also said that to exit priority status, a school must have a graduation rate greater than 70 percent and be above the bottom fifth percentile of overall performance.
Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Steve Butcher noted that the approach the school has had to take to education students has changed, as the importance of looking carefully at data, and at each individual student’s needs — “Everybody’s different ... Sometimes we don’t all learn things at the same time, at the same level” — has been emphasized.
“This school, in a short time, has come a long distance, with where we were at two or three years ago,” said Butcher. “It’s indeed an honor to be a Hub school. It’s indeed an honor to be able to share our experience with what we have done, with what we’ve accomplished as a school, with other schools in eastern Kentucky that want to look at what’s going on in Pulaski County.”