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In KY turnaround, raising standards quickly, but not too quickly

This year, GothamSchools and WNYC are following three struggling city schools as they try to rapidly boost their students’ achievement as part of a national effort to fix the country’s lowest-performing schools.

As part of that effort, schools all over the country are experimenting with similar strategies. New York city won’t attempt some of the more severe models — like replacing a school’s principal and half its teaching staff — until next year, but some districts have already begun.

One of those districts is Jefferson County, Kentucky, which includes Louisville and six of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Education Week’s Dakarai Aarons is following one of those schools — the former Shawnee High School, recently renamed The Academy @ Shawnee — and its principal, Keith F. Look. Look and his staff members, half of whom are new to the school, are trying to re-shape the culture of the school, and Aarons writes that students are slowly coming around to teachers’ new heightened expectations of them.

One of the challenges, Aarons writes, is to accomplish all of that quickly, but without moving too fast:

With so many efforts under way, Mr. Look said he’s found pacing to be a priority.

“Part of my job right now is keeping folks from applying too much pressure to themselves to move things too fast,” he said. “I have teachers in this place who want so badly to do miraculous things that I have to control that … pacing so that they are just as effective or more in October, in January, and in March and in May.”

Another thing administrators are keeping an eye on is student burnout, said Diane Baker, the school’s special education coordinator. Approximately 25 percent of Shawnee’s population are students with disabilities.

“We can’t move at such a pace that we leave the kids behind,” she said. “We’ve got to step up the pace of curriculum and instruction, but we also have to step up the pace of student learning.” Teachers are trying to keep that balance by pulling students aside for extra help if they don’t master concepts.

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