Tuesday, November 28, 2000

School chief takes test seriously

Goals set to reach top scores

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — Keeping kids in school, making sure they can read and seeing that all students are successful are at the top of the to-do list for Kentucky's new schools chief.

        And these are just his first steps to reaching the state's No. 1 goal for all schools, to be scored “proficient” on the new state test.

        “Those schools that have not taken this seriously are going to have to make some major changes,” Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said Monday. “You cannot get to this goal with little or no change.”

        Mr. Wilhoit spoke to about 65 administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders at Tichenor Middle School.

        After being chosen to lead the Kentucky Department of Education in October, Mr. Wilhoit is now on a whirlwind tour of the state, highlighting his goals and plans for the state's education system.

        The Tichenor visit was the fifth of eight public forums he's holding this month. He's visiting Lexington today and Somerset and Ashland later this week.

        Monday night's discussion jumped from parent involvement to state funding to technology.

        But the issues Mr. Wilhoit said he plans to tackle in his first months at the helm include reducing the state's dropout rate; developing a strong literacy program, especially in elementary schools; and reducing regional, racial, economic and gender inequities.

        These efforts are aimed at helping schools improve their performance in Kentucky's new accountability system.

        Based on their test scores, schools are ranked in one of four categories: novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished. The state has set a goal for all schools to score at or above proficient by 2014.

        Districts should expect to see close attention focused on schools that are not moving toward that goal, Mr. Wilhoit said.

        “I'm going to be on their backs. I'm not going to run the schools,” he said.

        The new education leader said he won't be micromanaging from Frankfort. In January and February, he'll be visiting some of the state's high-performing schools and in the spring, he'll be touring schools that are struggling.

        The state department hopes to work as a partner with local districts, giving teachers and schools specific tips and advice on improving. One example of this is the state's revised scholastic and management audits, which give schools feedback on strengths and weaknesses.

        Mr. Wilhoit's long-term goals include improving support for teachers with better training and higher pay; fostering strong leadership in schools, particularly among principals; and creating a supportive environment for all students.

        “You can't hide from the public. You can't ignore low student achievement,” he said. “You can't afford to squander resources, and you can't run a system that doesn't value teachers and provide high-quality professional development.”


               • Reducing the dropout rate.

        • Improving literacy efforts.

        • Closing equity gaps.

        • Improving teacher pay and training.

        • Fostering leadership in schools.

        • Creating supportive schools for students.


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