Turnaround Update Given

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, November 25, 2010

PRINCE EDWARD – High school Principal Craig Reed and Cambridge Education Consultant Dr. Copper Stolle presented an update on the high school's turnaround effort at the November 10 school board meeting.

It's only been a few months since the state identified the County's High School as a persistently lowest achieving school, a designation which brings with it about $500,000 each of the next three years for improvement.

The County's high school is one of the 128 Title I schools that ranked in the lowest five percent among those authorized, but do not receive Title I funds. The criteria weighed for the designation were the academic achievement of all students in reading and math and that a school has not reduced its failure rate in reading/language arts and/or mathematics by 10-15 percent each year for the past two years.

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Cambridge, under specific guidelines, was tapped to address the school's performance and updates have been penciled in for school board meetings.

Among the highlights of the November report:

*They have identified students for remediation on failed SOLs and are currently struggling and in need of credit recovery. It was also noted that remediation plans have been discussed and that the best use of PLATO software has been determined. (PLATO is program that can provide remediation for students, but also give individualized instruction in areas of need.)

“So we want to use this as a remediative effort after school and, hopefully, during school,” Reed said. “But we also want to use it in our ATS program, our Alternative To Suspension program, for students during the day so that they can receive some sort of work when they're in ATS for disciplinary infractions.”

Reed also detailed that they want to use Istation (a reading program) data to remediate students who are struggling in reading and are below an eighth grade level. Istation finds out where a student is having difficulty and gives a differentiated lesson.

*Reed reported that they've met with special education teachers to plan for moving students from a special modified diploma to a standard diploma.

“We know that one of our deficiencies with AYP has been that a lot of our special education students are not…only not graduating on time, but they're also receiving a special and modified diploma,” he said. “So, to combat that, we're looking at the numbers of students that we have who have special and modified diplomas and we're trying to figure out…how many of those students can we actually move toward a standard diploma.”

It may be difficult this year, he said, adding that they're looking closely particularly at the ninth grade class-noting that they want to plant that seed now so that in the next four years they could have a system that will produce graduates with regular diplomas.

(Special and modified diplomas don't count in the graduation rate.)

*Reed said they were not pleased with the first benchmark results after the first six weeks and looked at some of the reasons why students are failing “not only things that we could do as a staff, but things that students needed to do. We looked at the strands where they were having difficulty, we also tried to plan different types of remediation efforts and, as a result, we have seen some increases in our benchmark scores.”

In the next few weeks, he said, they are going to review the second six weeks benchmark data, talk about the improvement that they've seen, “and try to figure out how we can replicate that improvement in the areas that we still have some need.”

*Dr. Stolle indicated that they are tracking on an individual level for on-time graduation. (Other students that will not be counted for the graduation rate have also been identified.) Interventions will be added.

*Reed cited that they are looking every week at students who have chronic tardies or absences and are requesting weekly and cumulative progress reports to try to identify the students.

Reed noted that they want to meet with support teams and call chronically absent students and create an attendance contract as part of the plan.

He also reported that they are looking at discipline each week, which students are given discipline notices, which teachers are writing the notices and at what time of day.

“As a matter of fact, just last week, our discipline was as low as three percent…and I think the week before that it was 4.5 percent,” Reed said. “So, out of 760-some students that's actually pretty good. So, just to let you know, we have some great students at Prince Edward County High School so we want to make sure that we're serving them best way that we can.”

Reed said that they're creating a plan to intervene with students with high incidences to reconnect with the school and are researching an anti-bullying program.

*He also reported a parents group communication meeting was scheduled for November 16 at the Prospect Fire Department; that 27 attended such a recent meeting; and that six attended their first PTSA meeting. A school quality review has been organized by parent and community members, he said.

Reed also detailed that they are creating a parent satisfaction survey to get input from parents and are following up with the recommendations from the school quality review.

*An eagle award has been created for teachers exemplifying some good teaching practices as well has helped with turnaround efforts. In addition, they are continuing with a series of instructional strategies for staff that are coming to volunteer. The staff, Dr. Stolle outlined, is being held accountable for engagement in the strategies presented at the beginning of the year.

*Reed, in discussing the new bell schedule, noted that it is a little bit difficult for daily remediation. Currently, there's an after school remediation program after school, but it's sometimes difficult to get students to stay; remediation programs are most successful during school.

“With the current bell schedule that we have, because there's a variation in time, it does make it difficult to have that daily type of remediation,” Reed detailed. “The length of the periods are not the same and…conversely, there's a difference in the rotation. So those are some conversations that have come up with the bell schedule and we're looking at that to say OK, how can we work this out or…does there need to be some sort (of) change in our bell schedule as we objectively look at this issue.”

This year, school officials shifted away from the four-by-four block schedule where long class periods meant courses could be completed in a semester in favor of year-long courses in a syncopated schedule.

There is also some difficulty in coordinating schedules during the school day for staff as well. Reed noted that even when they look at things like benchmark scores, it's a process that they have to do after the school day.

School Board Member Thomas Tillerson, in the discussion, asked if special education students were being encouraged to take courses in career education. Reed noted that all students are encouraged to take courses.

Students have to have career planning as part of their IEP (individual education plan), it was also cited.

Public Comment

“Last week, I paid my taxes to (the) Prince Edward County Treasurer and I was very dissatisfied knowing that a portion of my tax dollars were being used to support a failing school system,” Moses Foster commented in the public comment portion of the school board meeting.

He noted that he has attended almost all the school board meetings and that he was unaware of the performance of the schools.

“On April…2010 it was stated that Prince Edward County High School was classified as a persistently lowest achieving school,” Foster reflected. “This was very shocking news to me. It was very disturbing to me to hear a top administrator tell the school board that Prince Edward School system was not a failure and that we should continue to hold our heads up.”

He later suggested that school board hold forums during the school year, suggesting it would help the public and citizens of the county become better informed.

Other News…

*School board members were presented with a budget timeline. According to Director of Finance Cindy Wahrman, they are looking at “possibly a million dollars cut for next year so we have our work cut out for us, but the timeline is there as far as the process and what will follow as well as a listing of the meetings, dates with regard to the budget process which includes…a additional meeting with our board of supervisors.”

That meeting has been penciled in for January. Meanwhile, the first big event on budget calendars is expected to come before the end of the year when the Governor's proposed budget is announced outlining funding for schools.

*School board members endorsed a resolution from Matthews County seeking to have the legislators relax educational mandates, which could reduce the economic burden on localities.

*The three school principals gave reports on school improvement teams. Each team, which includes administrators, staff and a school board member, deal with student performance issues and discusses specific issues related to the respective schools.

*School board chairman Russell Dove presented a report on the joint meeting between County Supervisors and the school board. Among the issues he highlighted is that the discussion over carryover funds did not produce any concrete results; discussions are expected to continue at future meetings.

*Director of Accountability, Assessment and Technology Dr. Roy Echeverria presented an update on the dispersal of obsolete computers. The school board agreed in April to donate the computers students meeting specific eligibility requirements.

Ten students in a single class, he reported, completely refurbished 35 computers and made sure software was in good working order. Forty students were randomly selected to receive the computers, with three declining the offer. He noted that 21 computes had been distributed to families.

*School board members were presented information on Farm-To-School Week, which was November 8-12. The program is an effort to increase the amount of fresh and nutritious Virginia-grown products are in schools and universities.

*It was noted that Geography Awareness is set for November 14-20. It was reported that the fourth grade social studies class is a geography class. Geography, it was also highlighted, is imbedded into instruction and that there is no specific geography course taught at the high school.

It was also reported that the division will hold a Geographic Bee on December 16.

*School Psychology Awareness Week is scheduled for November 8-12.

*International Education Awareness Week, with this year's theme “Striving For A Sustainable Future,” is November 15-19.

*The division-wide spelling is scheduled for January 11.