Kevin Gay is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in school turnaround.
I am truly honored to be named a White House Champion of Change. I proudly accept this honor on behalf of the students, staff, and community of Leslie County High School. I have been a principal for the past three years in the same high school from which I graduated. In this short time, my high expectations for turnaround and school improvement were greatly surpassed. I never imagined we would be able to impact not only our school but our district, other regional educational leaders, and to present our success story to many, including the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education.
My focus as instructional leader began by creating a sense of urgency among staff to reiterate the need for change. This effort of dramatic change was orchestrated through a “systems thinking” approach. We created a strong leadership team to direct and monitor progress. Processes were created to link systems while focusing on quality, effectiveness, and efficiency. First, we developed a vision, a mission, and belief statements with input from all stakeholders. We then used multiple sources of data to accurately diagnose issues, develop SMART goals, and determine action steps. We monitored continuous improvement by a 30/60/90 day planning process to build sustainable systems in the areas of school culture, academic performance, and data-based decision making.
Further, and of great importance, we engaged students by requiring them to keep student data notebooks. Every quarter, the school has “Data Days”, several days set aside for teachers and administrators to meet with all students individually or in small groups to review their data, look at their goal setting, and find ways to help those who need it. Students took ownership of their success. In addition, teachers took ownership of their success. They worked collaboratively by using a professional learning community protocol where they deconstructed curriculum standards, developed aligned assessments, constructed instructional units, and analyzed assessment to inform and adjust instruction based on student needs.
These are only a sampling of the many initiatives implemented in our school that helped bring about the dramatic change from being in the bottom ten to one of the top twenty schools in the state. It is my belief that all students can learn based on what we do. I remain very optimistic that educational leaders can objectively assess the present condition of their schools, create a realistic vision of its future, and develop an action plan for attaining student success.
Kevin Gay is the principal of Leslie County High School in Hyden, Kentucky.