She didn’t throw the newspaper at her parents.

But she was quick to break the news.

Valley High School had shed the dreaded label of a priority school.

For Marie Klannapel, the news was a capstone, of sorts, on her high school career.

She’d enrolled against her parents’ hopes. They wanted her to attend Manual High — the gem of Jefferson County Public Schools and a school in which Klannapel had been accepted.

J. Tyler Franklin |

Marie Klannapel speaks with reporter Jake Ryan.

But she chose Valley — one the lowest performing schools among the district’s 21 high schools and one deemed a priority school by state standards.

And she’ll graduate this week without a regret.

Priority schools make up the bottom five percent of the state’s rankings. They fail to meet wanted academic goals or graduation rates.

Leadership removals can follow a school’s listing as a priority school and administrators must adopt state intervention models.

Most notably, perhaps, morale among teachers and students can plummet.

J. Tyler Franklin |

WFPL’s Jake Ryan speaks with students at Valley High School.

When Klannapel first arrived at Valley High as a freshman, she noticed the permeation of the priority status.

Some students slept in class, others lacked respect for teachers and peers, she said. But then, things began to change.

Rob Stephenson, the school’s principal, noticed it, too. Yet he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“It’s not any one thing,” he said.

The changes would eventually lead to a transformation within Valley High School. Scores climbed, students’ attitudes improved and Klannapel is proud of the school.

Her parents are, too.

To hear how it happened, listen to the story above.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.