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Trimble County High School graduate and current Union County, Ky., Superintendent Joshua Powell recently spoke at the National School Board Association meeting in San Francisco. During his presentation, Powell said school turnaround can happen in any district with the support of a proactive board regardless of size, demographics or location.
Powell offered further insight by adding he believes a progressive board with an intense focus on improving student achievement and a collaborative relationship with the superintendent are key in turning around low-performing districts
Kentucky School Board Association Executive Director Bill Scott supported Powell’s belief in the power of the Superintendent-Board relationship.
“In the past decade, multiple studies have documented the critical difference the board team (superintendent and board members) can make when focusing on the same priorities,” Scott said.
Powell was invited to present at the NSBA conference because of the phenomenal results his district has shown in increasing student achievement over the last three years.
Union County school board member Lynda Jackson was also in attendance at the Turnaround Schools session.
“I know where other districts are coming from,” commented Jackson, “because that was us just three years ago. Our students were not challenged with rigorous classes and we were not preparing them for the next level. Unfortunately, I know firsthand, because I have two sons, both Governors’ Scholars, who sometimes struggle in their college courses.”
“In the presentation at the NSBA Conference, Superintendent Powell discussed several of the strategies used to improve the performance of the district’s schools and students,” Scott said. “Perhaps the most powerful of these strategies was setting clear and high expectations. When administrators, teachers, and students all realized that mediocrity was no longer acceptable and that they were both expected and capable of performing at higher levels, it was amazing what happened. The remarkable improvements in Union County’s test scores are a testimony to what can happen when district leaders set clear and high expectations and then hold the system accountable for meeting them.”
With our nation facing educational peril and the need for disruptive innovation to bring about real change, districts cannot afford to fail our students. This need for drastic change in our lowest performing schools demands collaborative decision making by all stakeholders, especially local boards of education.
This sentiment was expressed by Powell: “The only way our district achieved such remarkable gains is attributable to the shared vision and support from our local Board. As superintendents, we often get confused about support and equate it to total agreement, which it is not. In my opinion, a local school board’s role is to provide insight and different perspectives to a leader that is entrenched in a very complex system. I have learned that superintendents must continuously foster this essential partnership. I absolutely believe our district would have failed to achieve these extraordinary gains without our local Board of Education leading the way.”
During the session, Powell also shared Union County’s Turnaround Model which includes the use of formative assessment, the district’s Department of Student Achievement, and a balanced accountability system.
Powell led attendees through the Union County formative assessment framework and shared the district’s gains in student achievement for the last three years. Powell stressed to attendees that data gained from formative assessment is only valuable when it drives instruction.
Biloxi, Miss., Superintendent Tisdale agreed, “In this age of accountability, administrators and principals must look at data and examine it to see what it tells us to do in the classroom.”