Every day, Robin Steiner observes classes at Lexington's Bryan Station High School and uses what she sees to help students learn.
Steiner is a liaison between Fayette County Public Schools and Bryan Station High School, the district's only "priority school" — the state's label for persistent, low-achieving schools. Her job is to make improvements in technology and student engagement.
District leaders brought her in after state education officials determined last spring that the district wasn't doing enough to help the school improve academically. Test data show that the school is headed in the right direction, but a team from the state will return in March to decide, again, whether the district is doing enough for Bryan Station.
Vicki Ritchie, Fayette schools' director of school improvement and innovation, said the district has done a lot for the high school in north Lexington in the past several months.
The school has received more funding, including a $50,000 grant from the district to help students who need intervention, Ritchie said. More money for Bryan Station High will be discussed for the 2015-16 budget, she said.
Teachers at Bryan Station are getting more training, and there is more collaboration with the middle schools.
Ritchie, principal Mike Henderson, Steiner and other school officials attend a leadership training program two days a month at Eastern Kentucky University. Topics include math education, literacy strategies and strategic thinking.
At the school itself, the district brought in a special education team, and the district's technology department employees show teachers and others how to use technology in the classroom. A family and community liaison is working to involve more families. Pupil personnel officials work with students who have attendance problems. There are problem-solving sessions at the school as needed, Ritchie said.
The school is getting higher marks in the state's accountability system.
"Bryan Station has made progress over the past two years. The school's overall score has increased from 47.7 to 62.6, which indicates positive growth," said associate commissioner Kelly Foster. "There is still work to be done. But the school's leadership, teachers, staff and students have been working hard to move the school in the right direction."
Since fall 2011, state education officials have classified Bryan Station as a persistently low-achieving school, one of more than 30 priority schools that hadn't met adequate measures of success.
In a report that Foster presented to the state school board on Feb. 4, Bryan Station was among 28 priority high schools that showed a big gain — more than 20 percentage points — in students graduating from college or being career-ready over the past four years. Bryan Station was among 12 priority schools that had double-digit gains in the percentage of students meeting the ACT math benchmark from 2010 to 2014. And the school has closed student achievement gaps over the past three years.
But other areas need improvement. The school didn't meet its college and career readiness target, and its graduation rate is below the state average of 88 percent.
"We need to make sure every kid grows," said Henderson, the principal.
He described "a climate change" at the school: Students know that they have to meet certain benchmarks, and they're looking past senior year to college, technical school and careers.
"It's not just good enough to graduate from high school anymore," he said.
Bryan Station High could be released from priority status in 2015-16, pending state assessment data to be released in the fall. Students have to meet certain goals, Foster said, but "they are on track at this point, based on the last two years of data.''
Henderson said the district's support is "a lot more in tune with what our needs are."
Those needs are many. Ritchie said 61 percent of Bryan Station's students are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches.
Bryan Station parent Christin Helmuth said the district has not done enough for the school.
"It is nearly impossible to cultivate school pride and high expectations when the entire community has devalued the school," she said.
"This is particularly tragic given the fact that the results of most high-stakes standardized tests factored into our school accountability score demonstrate that BSHS actually hosts" more low-income, minority and disabled kids scoring proficient and distinguished than the other high schools on those tests, Helmuth said. Those numbers appear less significant when averaged, she said.
"Just watch one redistricting committee meeting to see what I am talking about," Helmuth said. The silence of district officials reinforces perception that high-poverty schools with low test scores are inferior, she said.
According to data on the school's "report card," she said, the school employs the highest numbers of inexperienced teachers, teachers without advanced degrees and teachers with provisional certificates, and the fewest board-certified teachers. All teachers are paid according to their experience and education, she said.
She said the district could compensate for those discrepancies by appealing to the state to create a more equitable fund-distribution process or by prioritizing funds.
Redistricting committee member Astarre Gudino said the committee has not yet done enough for Bryan Station. Gudino, who represents the Lexington Fayette Human Rights Commission, said that by moving some neighborhoods from Bryan Station to a planned new high school, "we've taken some of the diversity out of Bryan Station."
She said she hopes the committee could make recommendations to make Bryan Station "a destination school," giving it programs that make people want to be there.
The state's report last spring said that Bryan Station has a "variety of unique and exciting" programs — including Spanish Immersion, the Information Technology Academy, and the Station ARTS magnet program — that attract students from across the district, adding to the school's diversity, public reputation and overall performance.
Redistricting committee chairman Alan Stein said the group will recommend to the school board that Bryan Station become a magnet school for an information technology academy.
Helping any school in Fayette County that has challenges "has to be a team effort," Ritchie said.
District officials, school staff and people in the community all have to be on the same page, she said, to help students "make the gains and reach the goals that they've set."