The Ballard County School district has been classified as a District of Distinction for the first time under Kentucky’s K-PREP accountability assessments – a designation that means it is in the top 15 of the state’s 173 school districts – and all three of Ballard’s K-12 schools have earned distinguished status for the first time.
This is Ballard’s third consecutive year as a distinguished district, defined this year by the Kentucky Education Department as scoring 70.5 or above using KDE’s reporting system. Ballard’s district score this year was 75.
“I am so proud of everyone – the students, the teachers, and the community that supports us in the work we do every single day,” said Ballard Superintendent Casey Allen. “This really shows what can happen when everybody has a shared vision, and everybody is pulling in the same direction,””
The district also was designated as progressing, which means it met its Annual Measurable Objectives, student participation rate for the all students group and each subgroup, graduation rate goals, has a graduation rate over 80 for the past two years, and is in the top 10 percent of improvement measures in the state, as well.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people,” Allen continued. “First, it means our students were able to demonstrate what they learned throughout the year. Second, it means our teachers have been very focused in their work and really individualized instruction for every child. And third, it means our prinicpals have worked together more than ever before.”
Assistant Superintendent David Meinschein also credited the effort of administrators. Principals have made time to hold structured meetings every week, worked on school improvement plans together, and really helped each other, he said. “They really have been putting ‘first things first,’ putting the right things first,” he added.
The biggest change came at Ballard County Elementary School. Last year, BCES was designated as a needs improvement school. The state’s cut-off point for distinguished elementary schools is 72.8 this year, and BCES scored a 75.2. BCES also was designated as progressing and as high performing.
“I am so thrilled for our kids, our parents, our community,” said BCES Principal Vicki Gough. “Every morning, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, and close our announcements with ‘BCES – We are the best!’ Now we really are.”
The school made a real commitment to weekly teachers’ meetings that helped them hold each other accountable, Gogh continued. “We had a lot of folks in new positions, we were using some new curricula, and they really embraced it. Folks really stepped up to the challenge.” Scores in language arts and social studies were in the top 24 percent in the state.
She also said the school placed new emphasis on helping students set goals for themselves that made them more aware of their own capacity for improvement. “We’re answering the ‘whys’ for kids,” Gough said, so they know the reasons behind what they’re doing in class.
Teachers also concentrated on positive behavior reinforcements, like calling home to parents when students excelled on an assessment, or modeled great habits for their classmates. Consequently, in tandem with parents, the school’s attendance rate was higher last year. “BCES was a fun place to be,” Gough said.
She also cited community involvement as part of the school’s success. Local businesses put out paper for patrons to write notes of encouragement to students during last spring’s testing window, and Gough said she thought those notes really helped. Businesses also sponsored a number of evening events for families, and visiting classrooms to show students the real-world connection to what they were learning.
Ballard Memorial High School earned its fourth consecutive classification as a distinguished school, scoring 77.4. The state’s cut score for distinguished high schools is 75.4. BMHS also was designated as progressing and high performing. Principal Leslee Davis said both the district’s and her school’s success was due in part to everyone having one vision, and one goal together. “We’re trying to take each individual student and see what it takes to move them to the next level, whether it’s after school programs, college and career pathway advice, or credit recovery. It takes teachers who’ll go the extra mile, and kids who will listen.”
For the fourth year, BMHS received all 100 possible points for College and Career Readiness. Davis said she had about a dozen of her 200 or so upper class members working in internships, both in the district and out in the community. “Those employers are helping us teach students about how to be employable adults,” she said, and about the real world’s expectations of them.
The biggest difference is using that individualized approach, she continued. “Nothing’s a surprise to our kids,” she said. “They know why they’re taking Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards tests, or Work Keys, or the ACT, and what it means to them.”
Ballard County Middle School earned its third consecutive classification as a distinguished school, scoring 72.4. The state’s cut score for distinguished middle schools is 70.2. Principal Amber Parker said administrators really drilled down into last year’s data, and knew where their weak spots were. She and Assistant Principal Stephen Queen charted the students, and starting after Christmas, really worked with them to offer true interventions where they were needed.
In January, they met with each student and talked about his or her scores, and strategies they could use to get to the next level. The school used a 25-minute block of time for that work, and Parker said she felt like they maximized the improvements there.
BCMS is a Leader in Me school, and also relies on positive behavior reinforcements. Parker sends out weekly encouragements to teachers and students alike, recognizing them in brief daily assemblies. Student lockers are decorated with magnets and other items that tell the building how involved they are in their studies and with their extracurricular activities.
Teachers got additional help and coaching, and that work paid off as well, Parker said. The school boasts the number 4 writing score in the state.
Parents and community members are in the building all the time, whether as volunteers for KPREP celebrations, or as part of the annual Truth or Consequences or Reality Store programs. A new Parachute Project was started this past year, pairing adult mentors with students.
These results are from tests that students took in May 2016.
A complete report on Ballard and all schools in Kentucky can be obtained at http://applications.education.ky.gov/SRC/Default.aspx.