Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Performance-Based with Zero Dropouts

Roger Cook, Superintendent of Taylor County Schools in Kentucky, is, simply put, leadership in action.  Mr. Cook has brought dynamic change to the district, starting from day one. During his first year as Superintendent, Mr. Cook transformed Taylor County Schools into a performance-based educational system, challenged teachers and students to meet 21st century expectations with rigor and relevance, and spearheaded the effort to fund new, much-needed facilities.


As an instructional leader, Mr. Cook is, more than anything, visible.  He knows his teachers and the subjects they teach.  He uses data collected from his regular walkthroughs of district buildings to guide decision-making and resource allocation.  When he sees a need he finds the means to create solutions.  His expectation to reach proficiency and Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire (his favorite book) is now part of the district's pedagogy. 

For eight years, the district and school leadership have worked to create a culture of anytime anywhere learning and have had zero dropouts for the last six years. So we interviewed Roger Cook along with Troy Benningfield, Director of Instruction, and Susan Kilby, Assistant Superintendent to find out more about their district to share with you.

1. What is Performance-Based Education?

Performance-Based Education is a system of teaching and learning that places students in grade-level content areas based on mental capacity rather than chronological age. Our mission statement:
"Providing an Equal Opportunity for ALL Students to Reach their Maximum Potential"
2. Can you share with us what Performance-Based Education looks like?

Right now with the school year coming to a close more than one third of all our students are taking or have taken classes this year one or more grades above their chronological age. We have well over three hundred elementary students taking middle school content. We have over five hundred high school credits earned by middle school students. We have some fifth graders taking high school algebra for high school credit. We are graduating seniors from high school with enough college hours to be mid-term sophomores in college. 

3. What has happened to Taylor County Schools since Performance-Based Education was introduced?

I just found out we have been designated a "District of Innovation" by the state of Kentucky. We have hosted over forty school districts from in state and out of state this year alone. We have presented at three national conventions and have traveled to other districts teaching our concepts of Performance Based Education with Zero Dropouts. We have a one to one iPad initiative at the high school where our students are self paced at different levels of learning. 

4. Can you tell us more about your zero drop-out policy?

I have been promoting Performance Based Education for eight years but it was done in two different school districts. My first four years as superintendent was at Russellville Independent Schools in Russellville, Kentucky. This district has 33 percent minority and 78 percent free/reduced lunch. We were able to take the academics from eighth from the bottom in Kentucky to the top 30 in four years using Performance Based Education and anytime anywhere learning. The first two years at Russellville the drop-out rate was high but after beginning my zero drop-out policies the third year I has zero for my last two years in Russellville and we have had four straight years of zero drop-out in Taylor County with a total six years of zero drop-outs as superintendent.

The drop-out policy for our schools states that any student wishing to drop-out of school must come to the superintendent's office and meet with me. I listen to their reasons for wanting to drop-out and then tell them they are not allowed to do it. Our board of education policy states that no students can drop-out before the age of 18 years of age. The state has now adopted this policy into law with Senate Bill 95. I then proceed to find them an alternative they can live with and still get their diploma.

5. You mentioned your policy, but how does this look like from one student's perspective?

In the case of the student who wanted to drop-out to work on automobiles in his father's garage, I told them that I would agree to let the student work on automobiles all day but it had to be done at the area Vocational Technical Center. This is also a part of our school district. I talked with the Vo-Tech principal and, at first, he did not agree to allow the sixteen year old Sophomore to stay down in his building all day working on automobiles.

I then told the principal that the other 68 students going to his school would not be going either unless he agreed and changed his mind. The student had to be given his math as it related to an internal combustion engine, same with science and all of his subject as they related to automobiles. Reading technical manuals gave him his reading grade. This student went on to graduate this past school year with his diploma.

6. How has teaching and learning changed?

Many of our teachers flip their classrooms, video their lessons so they can be accessed anytime anywhere by students. Our students can complete lessons 24/7/365 days a year. I as a superintendent have not had a dropout for six straight years. With every student testing we are one of only twenty five school districts in the state that is proficient. 

7. How will professional development support Performance-Based Education this coming year?

All of our professional development this summer and during our Early Release Friday PD's will be utilized to develop standards based on the new core. Our report card will be standards based grading using traditional and non-traditional grading.

8. Can you tell us about your School of the Future?

Our school of the future will be designed to have 48 students in a class with two teachers. There will be four pods of twelve students initially but and students will be allowed to go to the pod of learning that best suits their learning style. Teacher directed, self paced videos, peer teaching/tutoring and project based. In time students will come to school to accomplish standards and go to the class, the teacher that best helps them accomplish the standards.

Mr. Roger Cook, Superintendent
Taylor County School District
1209 East Broadway
Campbellsville, KY 42718

Mr. Cook serves on the Governor’s Education Task Force and the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative Board of Directors.  His participation in these programs is most beneficial in ensuring that alignment of curriculum and policy benefits not only students and teachers, but also the education community at large. Notably, Mr. Cook’s commitment to provide equitable opportunities is unrivaled.  As part of their performance-based initiative, the opportunity now exists for students to finish their program of studies early and begin college course work at a greatly reduced fee at their in-house virtual learning academy.  

Mr. Cook is focusing on the future economic stability of the Taylor County community. Despite the recent defeat of a nickel levy at the polls, he has not stopped in his efforts to create an optimum learning environment. He has worked diligently to find ways to replace our buildings, one of which was built in 1939.  He has included all stakeholders in the process. He will not stop the fight for new facilities and the district is confident he will find a solution to our urgent needs. 

In all, Mr. Cook is a visionary.  He clearly understands that success breeds success.  He isn’t afraid to ask for help from other districts or expose our strengths and weaknesses so that we can target areas for improvement. Mr. Cook isn’t interested in settling for good schools.  He wants this district to succeed beyond all measure and serve as a model for others.  Mr. Cook has led the Taylor County School District to become the only performance-based campus Pre-K thru 12, in the state.  The district is now at the forefront of finding better ways to implement the rigorous curriculum expected with the adoption of common core state standards. 

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