STANFORD — It's been close to 10 months since Lincoln County High School was first designated as a persistently low-achieving school, but with the start of a new school year just around the corner, the district has some good news to celebrate.
Lincoln County's overall ACT scores, which had lain dormant in the mid 17s for years, have now improved by more than a full point to 19.0, putting the school right at the state average.
High School Principal Tim Godbey said it's the first time the school has ever reached the state average on the composite ACT.
"Our turn-around has certainly begun," he said. "I just can't tell you how excited I am about these numbers."
English scores made the biggest leap, from 16.7 to 18.7, while reading increased to 19.5 — half a point above the state average — and science climbed from 18.2 to 19.1.
Mathematics is the only area where Lincoln County remains behind the state average of 18.8, with an average score of 18.4, Godbey said. That's still up by 1.3 from last year's average math score of 17.1.
Superintendent Karen Hatter described the improvement in Lincoln's ACT performance as "spectacular," and credited a proactive approach following the high school's PLA designation with helping the school and district to turn things around even before state-initiated changes began to take effect.
"We didn't just sit still during that time," she said.
Hatter said once Lincoln County knew it had been designated as a PLA school, leaders began implementing changes they knew the state had required for other schools that had received the PLA designation.
The district hired former Danville High School Principal Win Smith, who had guided Danville up from similarly low performance numbers, as a leadership coach for the high school, Hatter said.
And the high school and two of the district's lowest-performing elementary schools began self-studies, determining where the schools were at and what needed to improve.
Lincoln School Board Chairman Jim Kelley agreed getting ahead of the PLA designation and taking action before the state required it helped improve ACT scores.
Kelley said he also thinks the school will see a marked rise in college- and career-readiness from its previous level of 31 percent, but the new scores on that assessment haven't been released yet.
While the improved ACT scores bring Lincoln County more in line with student performance around the state, Kelley said the district can't stop there.
"At this point, we can't settle for average," he said. "We've got to do better than that."
As part of Lincoln's PLA designation, an audit team visited the high school and district for a week in February, releasing a report of its findings in March.
Those findings listed many areas where the audit team believed the district and high school were falling short, including in the areas of communication, student-performance-focused spending and monitoring success.
Hatter said there was a lot in the report that was tough to read.
"Accepting what it had to say was not different from going through a grieving process for me," she said. "Even though I had only been in the position for less than a year, I still took it personally."
Now, as the new school year starts, Godbey said the high school will be using what's known as a "30/60/90-day plan." The plan focuses on how the school can be improved and is constantly being revised and re-examined every 30 days.