Principals sing praise of work, direction

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 SHEPHERDSVILLE -- For Christy Coulter, the reaction ran the entire spectrum.

From pride to validation. From tears of joys to tears of relief.

When the latest round of Unbridled Learning test scores was released Friday, Bullitt Central had literally gone from being taken over by the state to a school which is in the 79th percentile.

That means of all the schools in the state, Bullitt Central scored better than 79 percent of the others. Last year, the school was in the 19th percentile.

The story of Bullitt Central was one shared by others in the district, which reached the proficient status for the first time in its history.

"We've been seeing a change of culture," Coulter said of the school environment the past five years.

"I know our faculty has worked so hard to make this happen," said Coulter, who has been at the school in some capacity for over 20 years. "We competed. Our kids competed with the best in the state."

As a former basketball coach, Coulter always expected her players to compete. She felt that the entire Cougar community was working hard and this was the culmination of that effort.

"We were embarrassed last year," Coulter said of the scores. "You take it personal. We take it personal."

With the leadership shown by the teachers, Coulter said, everyone took it upon themselves to find a way to improve student learning.

And, with the students seeing how much the teachers care about them, they went to work to do their best during the testing.

"We're not making excuses any more," said Coulter. "These kids are capable of competing against the best."

Finding a way to make sure that every student learns has been the key, said Coulter. Her expectation is that the school will only continue to get better.

And she hopes that the entire community will understand that students do receive a quality education at Bullitt Central.

"This validates the entire community," said Coulter. "We wanted to establish that respect for the Bullitt Central community."

Coulter said credit should also go to superintendent Keith Davis, the central office and the school board members.

"His job is to push us further than we thought we could go," Coulter said of Davis. "He has pushed me further than I thought I could go."

Tough decisions have been made but Coulter said student learning is now the major topic of discussion in the entire district.

She also credited the hard work being done at the elementary and middle school levels. Students are much better prepared for their high school experience, she said.

Jeff Marshall, in his third year at North Bullitt High, shared the excitement of Coulter.

All three high schools excelled at the latest testing cycle. In the past, it was the high schools which were at the lower end of the scoring spectrum.

"The staff was excited," Marshall said of the rise at North Bullitt from the 20th to 64th percentile.

Bullitt East rose from 63 to 87 in the rankings. 

A key at North Bullitt has been the staff knows that they can be creative and innovative -- without fear of failure.

"Our big focus is on student learning," said Marshall. "Teachers feel they can take some risks."

Intervention with struggling students is also a key.

Having the best attendance in the past 10 years during the first month shows change in the culture. Marshall said students want to be at school.

"This is all because of the hard work of our faculty and staff," said Marshall. "They have taken the challenge. They are making sure students are learning."

The goal now is to reach proficiency.

At Eastside Middle, principal Bonita Franklin said that even at a school where academic success is expected, being named distinguished is overwhelming.

What is even more awesome is that Eastside accomplished its goal -- of having better scores than every middle school in Oldham County.

"It is stressful to continue to grow," said Franklin. "But this staff is so good and they will do whatever it takes to make sure a child is successful."

The reaction at the test score announcement ranged from pure excitement to tears of joy.

"The entire room erupted," said Franklin.

She said the challenge will continue to be to grow and improve. But she knows the staff is more than up to that challenge.

In terms of the a district in which she has over 30 years of experience, the news on Friday was outstanding.

"This simply validates that the hard work, dedication, support we're getting from the board and the community is paying off," said Franklin.

Going from being shy to say you worked in Bullitt County to being a district that others are learning from is exciting, said Franklin.

"Wow, this is amazing," said Franklin, who proudly calls Bullitt the hardest working district in the state.

Under Davis' leadership, Franklin said the superintendent and central office have made decisions which have been difficult. And Davis has done things which have not been popular.

"Change is a painful process," said Franklin. "But I can't put into words what has happened. It's a new day in Bullitt County but it's not an easy one."

She credits the hard work at the elementary schools to better prepare students.

While the principals may have some fun competition between themselves, Franklin said she could not be more proud for every school and for the district.

"I'm blown away," said Franklin. "This is amazing."

At the elementary school levels, increasing scores was difficult. Maryville and Roby had the largest gains.

Ruth Esterle, principal at Maryville, said the announcement to teachers brought excitement, pride and celebration.

"While we have a big challenge ahead, seeing how much our hard work has paid off will serve as a motivator to us all," said Esterle.

A key has been that every staff member works diligently to make sure the instruction has rigor and is aligned with the state standards. Individual student progress is assessed and interventions are taken, when needed.

The work to analyze the data is enormous but Esterle said that it must be done to analyze strengths and opportunities of improvement for each student.