Friday, August 25, 2000

Plan to improve schools rejected

It needs work, state tells Covington

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Much of the action plan to improve Covington Independent Schools is “unacceptable and inadequate,” and lacking in focus and specifics as to how and when changes will be made, state officials told the school board Thursday.

        The Kentucky Department of Education was responding to Covington's plans to comply with a state audit that criticized the district's instruction and management last spring.

        The district submitted a response to the audit on Aug. 15. However, the action plan needs more deadlines and benchmarks for monitoring its implementation, state officials said.

        Some responses lacked a thorough analysis of the problems, offering few solutions for improvement, said Tom Willis, associate commissioner for district support services for the state Education Department. Some of the concerns and recommendations in the audit were glossed over or not addressed at all, he said.

        Also, state officials said some of the district's answers were “suspect.”

        For example, after the audit pointed out that many of the district's bus driver training records were incomplete, the district said in its response that the problem had been corrected. Howev er, when state officials reviewed the records earlier this week, more than half were still incomplete.

        Tom Petersen, associate commissioner of leadership and school improvement for the state department, said he was disturbed by some “flippant” responses to serious concerns identified in the audit, especially Holmes High School.

        “Professional development has to address instructional gaps that you have,” he said. "Administrators have to hold teachers responsible.”

        Mr. Petersen praised the district for its initial efforts in developing a districtwide instructional plan, improving school councils and communicating better with parents. He also commended Holmes Junior High School and First District Elementary for their enthusiastic, detailed plans for improvement.

        When board members approved the district's action plan in early August, they questioned the lack of a detailed timetable for implementation. Interim Superintendent Jack Moreland then said district staff would work on making the plan more specific.

        At Thursday's meeting, Mr. Moreland, admitting that some staff members were shrugging off the action plan and expecting operations to continue the same way, promised the board that needed improvements would come.

        “We've got some lip service from some people,” he said. “Those who think they're going to hunker down in the institutional past are sadly mistaken.”

        Mr. Willis urged the board not to view the audit as a checklist to be completed and shelved but as a guide to continuing improvement. State officials will continue monitoring the district and have requested another progress report by Oct. 15.

        In other business:

        • The board voted unanimously to start an all-day kindergarten program this fall. All six of the district's elementary schools will offer the full day of instruction.

        • The board voted to not raise taxes for the 2000-2001 school year. At Mr. Moreland's recommendation, the board approved a tax rate that would bring in the same amount as last year, or about $8.6 million.


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