Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday visited the Knox County Public Schools on Friday, December 14, as part of his three year commitment to visit all school districts in the state.
Holliday’s first stop was at Flat Lick Elementary School where he joined in on a conversation with school district staff about the Success for All (SFA) reading program utilized in elementary and middle school.
“The fundamentals of the program pay benefits in the long term,” said Holliday as he shared that SFA is one of the most research based and best-practice programs in the nation.
Holliday asked faculty how they are making connections between the common core, SFA, and the state’s new Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System, known as CIITS. The system allows teachers to share formative assessments and lessons with other teachers in their building, district, and state. It was developed after the state was awarded a federal Race to the Top grant. Holliday assured teachers that as the CIITS system grows, there will be a wealth of questions that they can use to assess their students.
Teachers also shared their concerns about the new K-PREP assessment with the Commissioner, with questions raised about reading passages on the test. In the old accountability system, students would read a passage and answer questions connected to what they just read. The new accountability system requires students to read two passages and make connections between the two. Holliday stated that the work that they are doing with SFA, and utilizing quality formative assessments throughout the year, will help prepare students for the more rigorous test.
During the stop at Flat Lick, Superintendent Walter T. Hulett shared with Holliday recent technology initiatives of the school district. Flat Lick was one of the first schools in the district to purchase and utilize an iPad lab. The district now has labs in every high school math classroom and recently signed a lease agreement for Girdler Elementary to purchase iPad labs.
“You’re laying the foundation for the next generation,” said Holliday after hearing how the district is using technology to prepare 21st century learners for college and career.
“The use of technology is limitless,” said Holliday.
Holliday’s next stop in the district was at Knox Central High School, where he asked many questions about how the school is moving out of low achieving status and towards preparing all students to succeed.
School principal Tim Melton shared with Holliday recent attendance, dropout, and college and career readiness data. Holliday praised the school for offering programs such as JROTC, Project Lead the Way pre-engineering, and vocational classes through Kentucky Tech. Holliday also learned about collaboration between Knox Central and Lynn Camp which allows Lynn Camp high school students to take classes at Knox Central which are not offered at their school.
Project Lead the Way was one of the classrooms that Holliday visited while at Knox Central. The Commissioner inquired about which of the pre-engineering courses were being offered and how scheduling was being handled to accommodate students. School officials shared with him how a feeder-type program is setup at Knox County Middle to build interest and basic knowledge of engineering before students enter high school.
Holliday also visited math and English classes, including the classrooms of Taraneh Hazrati and Bjorn Wastvedt, which are Teach for America teachers at the school.
“We have some great students at Knox Central,” Hazrati told Holliday after being asked about her experience as a new teacher. “I love it here.”
Meanwhile, in Wastvedt’s classroom, students were working on geometry problems while Holliday asked about his experience with Teach for America.
“I always wanted to go into teaching,” Wastvedt said. “What could be better?”
Holliday asked Wastvedt about training and professional development opportunities that the Teach for America organization provides the new teachers once they enter the classroom.
Holliday’s last classroom stop was in Catrina McDermott’s English classroom where students were working on end of course-type assessments. McDermott shared with the Commissioner samples of student work as he asked her about Knox Central’s success with end of course testing.
“Keep up the great work,” was the Commissioner’s final words to Knox County administrators after his visit to schools in the district.
Superintendent Hulett stated that the Commissioner enjoyed his visit to Knox County and actually seeing the instruction taking place in schools.
“He had heard about Knox County and what we are doing, but this allowed him to see it and ask questions.”
The district extended an open invitation to the Commissioner to return again to Knox County, visit additional schools, sit in on leadership meetings, and participate in the district’s Operation Preparation mentorship program.
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