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Going the distance

FRANKFORT, Ky. — As a regular long-distance runner, Joe Rogers knows the importance of maintaining a steady pace to build endurance. 

Those runs, which take him all around the capital city and along the banks of the Kentucky River, help Rogers clear his mind and think. But when an exciting idea pops into his head about how to best serve all students at Frankfort High School, Rogers’ steady pace suddenly turns into a sprint so he can get home quicker.

“Long runs are when I reimagine education and have my best ideas,” Rogers said. “That uninterrupted think-time really allows you to focus. Though I seem to always start running way too fast at the end because I have to get my thoughts down before I forget them.”

Rogers, an Instructional Coach at Frankfort High, sees similarities in distance running and educating students. In short, there is no real finish line, no matter if he completes a successful half-marathon race or helps Frankfort close out an engaging school year.

“It’s always about what’s next and how do we get to that next level,” Rogers said. “That’s what excites me. Just like with running, you’re never going to have your school get to a place where you say, ‘OK, we’re perfect, all of our work is finished.’ There’s always something new to think about, always something you can strive to improve at.

“There is no end. At the end of a school year, you’re already thinking about the next year and the new class of kids that are coming in.”

‘Huge turnaround in academic success’

Recently, Rogers and his Frankfort colleagues received some validation that they’re on the right path. Frankfort High was one of 45 high schools across the country—and the only high school in Kentucky—to be recognized as a 2022 National Blue Ribbon school for overall academic performance. 

Rogers said the honor is a result of a lot of hard work done by educators at the school since 2015, when Frankfort High partnered with Summit Learning to focus on student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong connections between teachers and students. At the time, Frankfort ranked in the bottom 15 percent of Kentucky high schools on state accountability tests. Now, Frankfort ranks in the top 10 percent.

Frankfort High School

“We’ve seen a huge turnaround in our academic success,” said Rogers, a St. Louis, Missouri, native who originally joined the school as a history teacher in 2016. “Our graduation rate is now 100-percent, too. What I love most is hearing from students that come back after going to college and tell us, ‘I’m so much more prepared than the other kids I go to college with.’”

Rogers believes a crucial contributor to someone’s post-high school success—whether in a college or work setting—is how they were individually recognized and valued as a student.

“We take pride in knowing every single student that walks through our doors,” Rogers said. “We make sure we’re always working to know the whole student, their needs, their strengths, and then find places that we can support.”

‘I never thought high school could be this way’

Freshman Stephane Bebe felt an immediate sense of connection and community in his first few months at Frankfort. Stephane, a key member of Frankfort’s state championship soccer team this past fall, said his initial nervousness about starting high school quickly went away when he met his teachers.

“I never thought high school could be this way. Never thought there would be so much positive energy,” Stephane said.

“I just like being around positive, uplifting people and that’s how this school is.”

Junior Jaleia Hatchett, who had Rogers as a mentor in Frankfort’s robust mentoring program, said that positivity among the school’s staff is genuine and infectious. Jaleia, the sophomore class president a year ago, believes each student is able to achieve success in their own way because of the individual support they receive.

“Success to me involves setting goals for myself and making sure I work to accomplish those goals,” Jaleia said. “I love being a Frankfort High student. It’s truly a community. I love that you walk the halls and there’s always a familiar face.”

Frankfort students Stephane Bebe, left, and Jaleia Hatchett, right.

Hearing such upbeat words from students motivates Rogers to continue to find new ways for all learners to thrive and have a sense of purpose inside and outside of the classroom. Similar to his long runs, Rogers said there’s no use putting in the hard work at school if you don’t find enjoyment along the way.

“School shouldn’t be a grind,” Rogers said. “It should be where we have these students being inspired and feeling like they can laugh, be excited, and have all of the emotions. 

“Sustaining positivity and excitement is not easy, but it’s much easier knowing that we’re making sure our students have what they need to succeed.”

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