By Michael Broihier
In the wake of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) district and high school leadership audit report issued last week, KDE reps met with Lincoln County Superintendent Karen Hatter and LCHS Principal Tim Godbey Friday to discuss the road forward. Hatter said that the meeting with Susan Allred, KDE’s Director of Education Recovery (Eastern Region), was to explain the options the district has in how to deal with moving the high school from its Persistently Low Achiever (PLA) status.
Hatter said the first choice, closing the school, was a non-option. “In a big county like Jefferson or Fayette it could work; you could close a school and the students would go to other schools.” But in Lincoln, with only one high school, it isn’t possible.
The second option would be to hire an external management company to run the school during the recovery period. Hatter said that there are three companies certified by the state to manage schools in Kentucky and that one company, EdisonLearning, has managed educational recovery in Jefferson County with positive results, but its an expensive proposition. “In the past there has been funds available to pay for external management but they are no longer available,” Hatter said.
The third option available under the PLA laws is to restaff the school. “Research has shown that if you replace at least half of the teachers, you can change the climate of a school,” Hatter said, but this option has problems as well. The PLA law was written without regard to Kentucky laws regarding the hiring and firing of teachers, and despite the fact that one law says you can remove half the teachers from a school, another says you can’t fire a tenured teacher without offering a tribunal style hearing. “The PLA law doesn’t negate the fact that we have tenure laws in Kentucky; in other PLA schools they have dismissed teachers and are just now, two and three years later, getting to the tribunals,” Hatter said.
In a large district, teachers removed from a school could be reassigned to other schools within the district, but with LCHS being the only high school, there would be no place for them to go. At least 75 percent of the teachers at LCHS are tenured.
The last option available, and the most likely to be utilized, is the transformational model. “Transformation means completely different thinking about our schools,” Hatter said. “We can’t expect to keep doing things the same way and expect better results.” The superintendent said that all of the stakeholders need to be included in the transformation. “Change is hard and there is always resistance. It’s going to take a lot of work to get everyone on board to pass through the struggles associated with change,” she said.
Not all of the KDE’s efforts will be focused on the high school; district leadership received poor marks in the audit.
Hatter said that Allred is being promoted to lead educational recovery at the state level and is being replaced by Ann Burns in leading the state’s support team, but she expects to have a lot of support as the district takes its initial steps in redefining the district’s mission and vision statements to help foster a climate of high expectations.
Hatter said that as the process progresses she will be seeking input from the whole community to make sure that what the district defines as its mission and vision is inclusive and that everyone understands that making students college or career ready is of the highest importance.
“It has to be at the heart of our philosophy,” she said.