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354 Look To Switch Schools in Fayette

Ohanian Comment: Good for the reporter for letting positive voices be heard.

More than half of the Lexington students seeking to switch schools under No Child Left Behind come from two schools -- Bryan Station High and Tates Creek Middle.

Of the roughly 5,000 Fayette youngsters at eight schools given the option of transferring, only 354 had sought to switch by Tuesday. The application deadline was last night.

Lexington students will begin learning as early as tonight whether their requests to switch schools have been granted. If the numbers hold steady, district officials expect to be able to grant all of the transfer applications.

Superintendent Stu Silberman said the response was greater than he expected, "but not as high as it could have been."

"To me that says folks aren't wanting to change that much and they're satisfied with schools, and if they're not satisfied with schools that they're going to help us work on improving them," said Carmen Rader-Bowles, whose office is coordinating the transfer process.

Under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, schools with test scores below federal benchmarks two years in a row are labeled in need of improvement and required to let students transfer to better-performing schools.

Bryan Station parent Kathy Goss said her daughter Kaycee asked if she could leave for another school.

"She wanted it. She requested it," Goss said. "She knows her future earning potential depends on how well she does in school, and she wants to take advanced placement courses at a school that has a good achievement record."

Possible academic disruption related to the construction of a new $43.9 million Bryan Station also played into the decision, Goss said.

Kaycee is one of 132 students assigned to Bryan Station who asked to transfer to either Lafayette or Henry Clay high schools.

Families at eight of 50 local schools had the chance to pick between two alternate schools. Two of the eight schools -- Tates Creek Middle and Yates Elementary -- made gains last year but had to offer transfer options because it takes two years of improvement to avoid sanctions.

Tates Creek principal Earl Stivers said he was disappointed that there were 82 applications to leave the school despite its success.

"The ones requesting the transfers don't give me a reason why they're doing it," he said. "They just fill it out and send them in."

But parents who have called him and come to visit the school are impressed enough to stay, he said. Improvements include more hands-on math teaching and a reading program designed to help struggling students achieve.

"Unfortunately, a lot of parents put a lot of credence in those testing numbers, and since our number is not where we'd like for it to be, they leave us," Stivers said.

Vivian Coles, who moved to Lexington from England in December, said she was initially concerned about sending her children to Ashland Elementary because of its test scores.

But after meeting with principal Schuronda Morton, Coles said she was taken with the principal's openness, intelligence and familiarity with the school's students and their needs. The welcoming atmosphere on campus and dedication of Ashland's teachers have continued to impress her.

"Not for one moment do I regret the fact that I took the time to visit this school that looked like it was not going to be great compared with other schools," she said, offering this advice to other parents concerned about a school's test scores:

"Ignore them, and make sure you get your feet in the door and talk to the principals. And keep an open mind."

Among elementaries, Breckinridge had the highest number of transfer requests, at 50.

New principal Karen Smith assures concerned parents that changes are coming.

"I think they would be happy if they stayed," Smith said. "There's an excitement in the air at Breckinridge."

Breckinridge is one of the Fayette schools that missed federal standards only because of low CATS scores from a year ago.

The Kentucky Department of Education has designated Breckinridge a "school to watch" because it shows promise, Smith said. "We're going to do great things."

But parents seeking transfers for their children said they don't have time to wait while schools try to improve.

Tami Tamasi-Webster said she tried attending parent organization and site-based council meetings at Bryan Station High School last year "because that's what people at central office tell you to do -- get involved."

Yet, she was dissatisfied with the education her stepdaughter Chelsea was getting as a freshman at Bryan Station.

"We were not impressed with the homework we saw come home, with what she was doing in her classrooms or with the involvement of the teachers," said Tamasi-Webster, who plans to request a transfer.

Bryan Station principal Bob Gilmore said his understanding is that many of the students seeking transfers out of the school have never attended Bryan Station, because they are either incoming freshmen or students who previously went to private schools or were home-schooled.

He noted that Bryan Station made gains in all test areas based on the preliminary data but missed federal goals for percentage of students who graduate within four years. That data was from the 2002-03 school year.

Among the efforts to improve academic offerings are a new reading curriculum that will draw on classic literature, a new math class that has been developed for students who enter ninth grade already behind and a new class for freshman that will expose them to different career choices.

"I'm concerned that a lot of people who took this opportunity did it without giving our school the chance to prove itself," Gilmore said.

Reach Lisa Deffendall at (859) 231-3306; 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3306; or ldeffendall@herald-leader.com.

— Lisa Deffendall


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