School & District Management

A School Turnaround Story in Louisville, Ky.

June 16, 2010 2 min read
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While members of Congress and policy experts continue haggling over how to fix the thousands of chronically-underperforming schools targeted under the Obama administration’s $3.5 billion School Improvement Grants program, local education leaders have already begun executing plans to shake up some of those campuses.

To understand what’s at stake and how quickly these educators must move, Education Week is following the turnaround experience of one campus, Shawnee High School, in Louisville, Ky. Today, we’ve published the first story in what will be an ongoing series.

In many ways, Shawnee is typical of a struggling, urban high school. The vast majority of students are low-income and the school sits squarely in the poorest neighborhood in the city. The graduation rate has hovered just below, or slightly above, 60 percent for several years. Student scores on state math and English/language-arts exams are anemic. Previous attempts to improve the school have mostly entailed efforts such as tweaking the daily schedule or bringing in a veteran administrator to advise and mentor the principal—the sort of things that most turnaround supporters describe as tinkering around the edges.

So it was no surprise to Shawnee’s principal or faculty when the school landed on the list of 10 schools that Kentucky would target first for turnaround under the federal grants program. For a thorough overview of the six Louisville schools that must undertake this turnaround process, read reporter Antoinette Konz’s piece from last month in the Courier-Journal.

Keith Look, Shawnee’s principal, will have more than $1.3 million to spend over the next three years (roughly $440,000 each year) to assemble the staff that he thinks can change the school’s culture and deliver the sort of “breakthrough change” that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is always talking about. One major challenge for Look— and his fellow turnaround principals— is that no one has defined what that breakthrough change looks like.

There will be much more to say about all of this as I move ahead with reporting about what happens at Shawnee and in other schools slated for turnaround. But I really want to hear from all of you.

Please leave comments here or e-mail me with your turnaround experiences so far. I want to collect as many perspectives as possible from the field, and I’d especially like to hear from educators in rural areas, where recruiting and retaining talented principals and teachers is so difficult.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

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