FRANKLIN — Educators from Kentucky schools visited Franklin-Simpson High School on Tuesday to see how it has risen from being called “in crisis” to one of the best in the state.
What they found was a mixture of common sense, empowerment strategies and insight into how to build relationships between teachers and between teachers and students.
“I’m trying to see the different things that they have implemented to be successful,” said James Ray, a U.S. history teacher from Madison Southern High School in Berea. “We want to make sure the kids are aware of expectations and are college and career ready.”
Ray and 30 other educators participated in the sixth session of Kentucky Hub School seminars that began Sept. 15. Schools are selected as hub schools for their focus on continuous improvement, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
This week’s seminar was designed to offer insight into the systems FSHS Principal Tim Schlosser put in place with his administrative team to run the school.
More than 200 teachers, administrators and guidance counselors have attended the sessions, according to Robin Winnecke, education recovery leader for the KDE.
FSHS is one of two Hub schools in the state and in the top 3 percent of all public high schools in Kentucky.
“It starts with a vision that Tim (Schlosser) has had for all the students to be college and career ready,” Winnecke said.
“It’s about building relationships,” Schlosser said.
Bowling Green High School Principal Gary Fields was among those educators in attendance.
“It’s good to go to other places and see the strategies,” Fields said. “The state has given FSHS great tools for the college- and career-ready program.”
FSHS was actually on the state’s list of schools in need of help when Schlosser took over as principal two years ago. Systems were put in place to change the school culture. Schlosser said every time a hub seminar is held at the school, the Frankin-Simpson personnel learn something from the schools participating.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Schlosser said. “When we started this process two years ago, our problem was the relationship piece” of the program.
The school has a mission statement, which teachers, administrators and students know. That mission is “to empower students to be college and or career ready.”
The school of 850 students is full of art on the walls. Faces and accomplishments line the school’s corridors. Schlosser told the group Tuesday that FSHS highlights student accomplishments with posters and pictures. If a student is honored, all he or she has to do is provide a picture to the administration and a poster goes up in the wall.
“It’s kindergarten on steroids,” Schlosser said.
Just like the small kids, the older kids also want to be recognized for their accomplishments. “They want to see themselves,” he said.
They also provide consistent discipline to students and considerable one-on-one time with students. While students are in periodic assemblies led by the principal, the teachers huddle together to look at test data and teaching techniques. Teacher leaders, who are not necessarily department heads, bring information to other teachers. The teacher leaders exhibit a positive attitude and competency, said Sam Evans, a FSHS agriculture teacher who is a teacher leader.
“We haven’t had a faculty meeting since August,” Schlosser said.
Susan Buelow, a teacher in her fifth year at FSHS, showed teachers at the hub seminar one of the exercises that the kids work through. The teachers work through them first in the planning sessions.
“We were actually like students. Doing it the way it was presented to us was the key,” Buelow said, adding that teachers have a tendency to work independently, but that independence also can make them feel isolated.
Joe Smyth, an FSHS U.S. history teacher, said the roll out of new information from the school’s administrative team, to the teacher leaders, the department meetings and, finally, to the teachers themselves, allows the teacher leaders to present new information in small chunks rather than overwhelming teachers with large reports that they have to disseminate on their own. The teacher leader creation also sees development of secondary leaders throughout the school who can step into leadership roles in time as department heads or teachers retire.
Jaxon Grover, FSHS assistant principal, said the “walk throughs,” when administrators visit the classrooms, are not performance evaluations. Information gleaned from the classroom visits goes immediately to an online tool where several people can look at what’s happening in the classrooms.
“You develop a climate of trust and communication,” Smyth said. “We’re providing a schoolwide snapshot of one day. It’s not individually, but how the school is doing.”
Materials and the insight provided by hub seminar presenters provided by the KDE effort are to sustain the educators’ growth, Winnecke said. The in-classroom observations are another learning tool. “They are there to help, coach, support, not to getcha, gotcha,” Winnecke said.
Sarah Akin, a guidance counselor at Christian County High School, said the Hub seminar is helpful.
“We can do better. I’m stuck in my own world,” Akin said.
“She’s good,” Sharon Ritter, also an education recovery leader for KDE, said of Akin. “Now she (Akin) wants to be great. The KDE calls it support on the ground.”