The Paintsville Independent Schools Board of Education is planning to undertake a five-year process to overhaul the district’s curriculum.

During the board’s recent meeting, members heard from Paintsville High School Principal Tiffany Austin, Superintendent David Gibson and PHS Counselor Karla McCarty about a five-year plan which, officials said, would allow more pathways for students who might be more interested in obtaining vocational certifications than pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a college.

“Our mission statement is ‘in search of excellence,’ so one of the things that PHS is really known for is our pre-college pathways, putting kids in college, 100-percent college acceptance rates, things of that nature,” Gibson said. “But the world around us is changing. No longer is going to college a guaranteed job, let alone a high-paying job. So, one of the things that the state of Kentucky, in redefining the graduation requirements for the state and what a high school diploma actually means, is, we’re looking at industry certification, work-ready communities, things of that nature.”

Gibson said the school is at a bit of a disadvantage, being a much smaller school than average high schools in Kentucky, but he said the school is looking at building partnerships with other educational institutions in order to fill the gap left by its small footprint.

“We are at a little bit of a disadvantage in that, as most independent schools are, because we don’t have a current technical center,” Gibson said. “So, we have to reach out and build partnerships and that’s something we’ve been doing ever since I’ve been here. We’ve got a great partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College, we’ve also got a budding partnership with Morehead State University on some things and we’re trying to reach out to other entities.”

Gibson said some groundwork has to be laid before these partnerships could be cemented, however.

“Last summer, before school started back, we came together as a coalition to develop a new vision and mission statement for Paintsville Independent Schools,” Gibson said. 

One of the proposed changes to the curriculum would be the inclusion of Acellus Academy in the first year of the five-year plan. Acellus Academy is a K-12 online private school located in Kansas City, Missouri, according to a presentation given at the meeting. 

The school is owned and operated by the International Academy of Science, a non-profit organization. Acellus provides instruction online through distance education via the Acellus Learning System. Acellus, a program of the International Academy of Science, is an online learning system that has been used to provide primary instruction to millions of students in thousands of schools throughout the United States.

Austin said the inclusion of Acellus would expand PHS’s curriculum from 49 regular classes, eight advanced placement courses and 17 regular electives to 76 regular classes, 14 advanced placement classes and 34 regular electives.

The plan also included the implementation of a fourth-period “TIGER (Teaching Individual Growth and Educational Readiness Skills) Time” program focused on teaching students useful life skills. The skills taught during these periods would change with the grade of each student as the school moves toward having a personalized learning plan for each student, according to Austin. Each grade, however, would focus on common items including a community service project designed and developed by students, leadership skill development, book study, MAP testing, individual  learning plan completion, team building activities and personalized ACT instruction.

For instance, seventh grade students would receive instruction on time management, study skills, complete a “note to future self,” and complete career interest inventories and explore these options, in addition to the ACT instruction, while eight grade students would learn stress management, further career research and exploration and test taking strategies. Ninth grade TIGER Time curriculum would include lessons on a student’s “digital footprint” and the impact that social media posts can have on employment opportunities and acceptance to higher learning institutions. In the higher grades, this curriculum would shift to include valuable life skills such as financial literacy, such as keeping track of expenditures, budgeting, filing taxes, and more, job interview skills, while senior students would receive instruction on basic adult skills such as how to change a flat tire, how to tie a tie, what to do if they’re involved in an automobile accident, and have access to opportunities to job shadow for careers they’re interested in. Seniors would also have visits from college, vocational and military representatives to learn more about opportunities available in those pathways, according to the presentation. 

As the plan moves forward, Austin said, there will be more opportunities for flexibility in these curriculums, allowing students to create a learning pathway that works for them and helps create young adults ready to navigate the challenges of a changing world and job market. Austin also said that this initiative would require a paradigm shift and to help re-emphasize that going to college was not the only measure of success for a post-high school individual.

“We’ve always been great, but that bar can always go higher, so we want to keep moving forward, we want to continue our strong pre-college pathways … so, we’re going to continue that pathway, but we’re also going to be looking at some new industry pathways,” Austin said. “This year, we have 40 students that are going to have their certified nurse’s aid certificates at the end of the year.

“We’re trying to move towards having these students not just college-ready, but they need to be ready for their career,” Austin continued. “Develop an entrepreneurial academy, develop our Appalachian graphic design fellowship … changing the perspective of students as well as parents in the community, to reflect that just because you’re not going to college, doesn’t mean you’re not successful. Again, not everyone is college bound, some of these students are going to go right into a career when they graduate, so, we’ve got to change the perspective of everyone.”

Austin said the measures being taken at PHS are part of building a future Appalachia where there is hope for economic solvency. 

“This will also impact our economic development in our area, because we need to build people that are going into our workforce in the future, building our job force and creating hope,” Austin said. “Sometimes, in our area, people think there’s no hope, there’s nothing here. So, our goal is to build that up and make our area see that, you know, these students are going out there and they’re going to make our area successful, they don’t have to leave and they can work right here.”

Gibson said he has been studying on a position paper from the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative called “The Way Forward,” which he said examines the economic trends and challenges of our area and how to address them.

“So, what we’re trying to do here is exactly what each school system and each community should be doing,” Gibson said. “Instead of waiting for someone else to come and give us a hand, we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves.”

McCarty said the new curriculum will ultimately include a focus on individual, personalized learning.

“The ultimate goal here is to make sure that we create a personalized system of learning for each individual student, because we all know that we all learn differently, we all learn at different speeds and we all have different needs and different outcomes and goals that we’re trying to accomplish,” McCarty said.

The Paintsville Independent Schools Board of Education meets on the second Monday of each month at 5:15 p.m. in the district’s administrative building and all meetings are open to the public.