Work begins to turnaround failing JCPS schools

Garrick Peterson
Garrick Peterson
Linda Brown
Linda Brown
Brad Weston
Brad Weston
Michael Billingsley
Michael Billingsley

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Failing schools and the confusing system aimed at turning things around. We got a behind the scenes look at what's being done to improve test scores in Jefferson County's low performing schools. It turns out the person JCPS put in charge of the turnaround effort knows firsthand the problems those schools are facing.

Garrick Peterson is the principal of a Utah school that went from one of the lowest performing in his state to one of the best.

"My experience working with teachers is pretty much all of them are doing the best they can every day," said Peterson.

Thursday, Petersen showed teachers at Fairdale High School how he turned effort into results. Fairdale is one of three JCPS low performing schools using outside experts to tutor teachers on ways to improve failing student test scores. The federal standards are laid out in the no child left behind act, which required half of the teachers at each of JCPS's seven low performing schools be removed and the rest retrained.

"This training will enable them to do it better and be more effective," said Linda Brown, Fairdale's former principal.

Brown said the problems here weren't bad teachers as much as student attendance and socio-economic challenges. But those federal guidelines said she had to go too. Brown was replaced by her one-time assistant principal, Brad Weston, now leading a monumental turnaround effort aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds.

"There's a lot of issues that money does help," Weston said. "But overall it's people and what we're setting in place is a system where teachers collaborate."

Developing a system where teachers work together to identify the most at risk students and get them the help they need before they fall behind is something JCPS will have to do at all its failing schools or risk a state takeover. They even created a job to oversee the turnaround at failing schools and filled it with Fairdale's former principal.

"We are looking at teachers making a commitment to every single student," Brown said.

JCPS said Brown's experience at Fairdale makes her uniquely qualified to monitor improvement at low performing schools. The district points out a state audit determined she was not the problem at Fairdale.

Still, teachers like Michael Billingsley, a Fairdale social studies teacher, think it's a mixed message.

"The state and the federal government sometimes are competing for the same ultimate goal," he said, "but sometimes they are not on the same page."

There are also questions about whether the state and JCPS are on the same page. On August 4, the state sent a letter to JCPS questioning whether the district's plan to turnaround low performing schools meets No Child Left Behind guidelines. JCPS could lose all $4.7 million in funding it's supposed to get for low performing schools if the state decides they haven't followed the rules.

JCPS said it is preparing a response to the state's questions and hopes to reach a resolution soon.

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