Just over a year ago, the Perry County Board of Education voted to hire Jonathan Jett as the district’s interim superintendent, a position he took full time this past spring. In his first year on the job Jett has made some progress in the district, and though much of the evidence of this may not be obvious at this time and there may be more bumps along the road as his second year begins, it will be how Jett leads the district in overcoming those obstacles that determines whether or not Perry County Schools is heading in the right direction.
Jett didn’t come to the position of superintendent without some baggage. Punitive measures enforced by the Education Professional Standards Board in relation to alleged cheating on ACT tests a few years ago were well documented, and despite not administering the tests himself, as the district’s chief academic official at the time, the hammer fell hardest upon Jett. As a result, his certification was temporarily suspended and his ability to administer future testing was permanently revoked.
Be that as it may, the district has already seen improvement during the first 12 months of Jett’s taking over as superintendent, both in terms of assessment and community relations. Though failing to meet the statewide average, the district did increase its assessment standing from 8th percentile in the state in 2012 to the 37th percentile in one year’s time, an increase in its composite score from 46.2 to 53.1.
Perry Central, which is currently being led by a recovery team following its listing as a persistently low-achieving school prior to Jett’s assuming the role of superintendent, is one of the schools that he seen marked improvement under Jett’s administration, with its composite score jumping from 41.3 in 2012 to 55.3 in 2013.
Jett should also be commended for overseeing the rollout of the district’s “Bring Your Own Device” initiative, placing computer tablets in the hands of students in the county, one of the first initiatives of its kind in the region. In an age where funding for textbooks is being slashed, this initiative should be an adequate replacement for physical books, as students can download the same material to their tablet. This initiative is also introducing students to new technology, students who otherwise may not have had that opportunity.
Relations between the Perry County and Hazard Independent school districts have also vastly improved over the past 12 months. In March, the districts announced they would be jointly participating in an effort to increase students’ college and career readiness, something unheard of between the districts just a few years ago.
There are other things going on that we consider positives for the district, from the opening of East Perry Elementary to ongoing work to secure sites for two new schools to replace aging facilities out in the county. But certainly things are still early for Jett’s tenure and there have been some areas that might be viewed as stumbles.
The ultimate measure of Jett’s success, however, will not be the data state officials might pore over come assessment time or how many regional championships a basketball team might win, but rather the success and quality of the students who graduate from our schools. That should be the overwhelming focus of every employee in the Perry County School District, from the lowest paid employee to the superintendent himself. Otherwise we’re simply spinning our wheels, something we can no longer afford in today’s economic environment where an education could mean the difference between putting food on the table and not.
We think, based on past statements, Jett has this focus in mind. We hope focus on student achievement will continue. If it does, there is no reason why Perry County Schools can’t be a model for turnaround. But the proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
— The Hazard Herald