The Richmond Register

January 11, 2014

Kindergarten readiness, reading improves over last year

Lackey to lobby in Frankfort, Washington

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Even before the prospect of all-day kindergarten became a reality, Madison County early childhood educators had a plan to improve student achievement after assessments revealed some disheartening numbers last year, said Mendy Mills, Madison County Schools instruction supervisor.

In May, 59 percent of kindergarten students were reading at Level C or below when they left kindergarten, yet they needed to be at Level D, Mills told the Madison County School Board at its Thursday night meeting.

“That was basically a huge slap in the face,” she said.

If a student is not above a Level C when they leave kindergarten, they generally do not maintain their level over the summer, she said. Some students were returning to first grade at a Level A.

“Research shows that if children are at a Level D by the end of kindergarten, they have a much better chance of maintaining that and moving forward in first grade,” she said.

Mills has been working with kindergarten and reading recovery teachers to find ways to improve achievement with only a half day of instruction.

“We started a huge kindergarten initiative before we even knew about full-day kindergarten, so the fire was already going” when school began this year, Mills said.

Mid-year data from December revealed that now only 29 percent of students were below a Level C, she said.

Improvements also were shown in the number of students deemed kindergarten-ready, she said.

Last year, Madison County participated in a pilot program for the new statewide BRIGANCE kindergarten screener.

Based on the pilot screener, only 26 percent of students entering school were ready for kindergarten, but the number has jumped to 47 percent this year.

It is difficult to compare the results to last year, however, because the screener has improved “for the better,” Mills said.

During the pilot program, teachers questioned the age-appropriateness of some of the questions, such as asking children to identify a person’s midsection as a “waist” instead of “stomach.” Or, asking students to identify a color like “magenta.”

“We can chalk some of (the improved numbers) up to the changes in the screener,” Mill said, but also to the continued work through the Madison County Early Childhood Alliance and its community partners.

The Alliance is a collaboration with childcare centers throughout the county to better prepare youngsters for kindergarten.

The board voted 4-1 in September to increase property taxes to fund full-day kindergarten. In October, it voted to implement full-day kindergarten in the 2014-15 school year.

Madison County Schools was one of eight Kentucky school districts that offered only half-day kindergarten.

Lackey to lobby in Frankfort, Washington

Superintendent Elmer Thomas has chosen board member John Lackey to represent Madison County in Washingon D.C. for the three-day National School Boards Association Advocacy Institute.

At the Institute, Lackey will attend various advocacy workshops and learn how to be an effective public advocate, create concise messaging to enhance lobbying efforts and engage media and the public, according to the NSBA website.

Lackey also will have the opportunity to listen to keynote speakers, such as Bob Woodward, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist/author and associate editor of The Washington Post and the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the second day of his visit, members of Congress and the Obama administration will address the Institute and present their education agendas for 2014.

On the last day of the trip, board members will lobby on Capitol Hill and meet with senators, representatives and their staff.

Lackey said he will pay his own trip expenses.

Later in February, the Kentucky School Board Association chose Lackey to lobby in Frankfort for restoration of state funding for public schools, or SEEK, which has been frozen at 2009 levels.

“Anybody out there, if you have any particular things you think I ought to support, I’d be glad to hear them,” Lackey said.

Contact Lackey at john.lackey@madison.kyschools.us or at his law office at 623-1676.

Board purchases new web-filtering software

On Thursday, the board voted 5-0 to approve the purchase of Smoothwall software, a web filtering service that will replace the district’s Barracuda service.

To remain compliant with the Child Internet Protection Act of 2000, school districts must filter web access, said technology director Bob Moore.

Barracuda was costing the district around $16,000 a year. However, Smoothwall will cost just over $13,000 per year, or $36,500 if purchased for three years, saving an additional $3,648, he said.

In response to teachers’ concerns about the district’s network, the technology team identified Barracuda as one of the “bottlenecks” slowing network speed, Moore said.

However, Barracuda blocked only listed websites. When new inappropriate websites showed up, they might not have been blocked right away, he said.

“So there’s always a lag of websites that students can get to that they probably shouldn’t,” he said.

Smoothwall will actively filter websites based on the page’s content. But sites also can be blocked separately for teachers and students.

For example, some teachers like to have access to “essay mill” websites to make sure students are not plagiarizing, he said. But students do not need access to those sites.

Moore said he looked at multiple vendors, but to qualify for Kentucky Education Technology Systems (KETS) funds, the district had to choose from approved vendors.

The Smoothwall contract is licensed for 5,500 workstations, but if the network grows, additional workstations may be added at no cost, Moore said.

Chair, vice-chair elected

Board chair Mona Isaacs was elected to serve as chair for another year with a vote of 4-1 by fellow board members. Mary Renfro was the only dissenter.

When former chair Betsy Bohannon resigned June 2012, Isaacs also finished her term as chair.

Lackey was elected vice-chair in a 5-0 vote. Becky Coyle previously held the position.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.