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Turning PECHS Around

PRINCE EDWARD-The County's high school is in its second year working with Lead Turnaround Partner with Cambridge Education in a federally funded program to improve student performance. Internal Lead Partner Michelle Hairston presented an update on the first year of the effort at the October school board meeting, and a look into the second year.

The State Department of Education tapped four vendors to provide education services to schools identified as a persistently lowest achieving school. The school board selected Cambridge from the list of four.

Of the 128 Title I schools, it ranked in the lowest five percent among those authorized, but which 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 previous two years.

The school system is expected to receive about $500,000 for three consecutive years to fund the turnaround effort.

A component of the contract and the original request for proposals identified 25 performance accountability measures in the areas of student performance, school climate, parent outreach, excellence in teaching and capacity for leadership.

Among the highlights of the report:

*In the first year, annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets for student achievement are to be met in reading and math in all subgroups and in all student groups at a minimum with “safe harbor.” That was achieved in English with exception of two subgroups (though performance increased in both), black (the AYP target was 86 percent and safe harbor was 82.31 percent) where students scored 81.9 percent, and students with disabilities (the AYP target is 86 percent and safe harbor is 61.43 percent) and students achieved 60 percent. Students as a whole and subgroups met targets in math.

*The target was for the difference between the highest performing subgroup (white) and each of the other subgroups in English, math and social studies to be reduced annually by 50 percent as measured by SOL performance. That was not achieved.

*The percentage of students in each year of the contract, achieving a pass advance in English, math, science and social studies is to increase by five percent. That was not achieved with all students in English; was achieved in algebra I and algebra II, but not geometry; was not achieved in Virginia and U.S. history, world history I and world history II, and was achieved in biology, earth science and chemistry.

*The percentage of students achieving a score of a three, four or five on the Advanced Placement (AP) test is to increase by at least five percent in each subject taught. That was achieved with all students in biology and calculus, but not in chemistry, English language and composition, English literature and composition, statistics, and U.S. history.

*The school is to be fully accredited in each year of the contract as defined by the Virginia Department of Education in English, math, science and social studies. That was met in each subject for all students. (The school did not, however, achieve the necessary on-time graduation rate. That, according to the contract, is to be met in the second and third year of the contract. The school is currently at 81 percent and about four percentage points short.)

*While student attendance numbers did not exceed AYP targets for all students and subgroups, they did increase in all areas and increased by at least half a percentage for all students and all subgroups except white. Overall attendance was 92.21 percent for all students, just short of the 94 percent target.

*Student behavior was also expected to improve with a 50 percent reduction of incidents, referrals and disciplinary actions in specific areas. That was not achieved in the classroom, bus, hallways, or cafeteria. The numbers actually rose in each of the areas. Ms. Hairston cited that sometimes referrals actually go up the first year in turnaround.

*Parent outreach efforts were discussed including the results of a Tripod survey conducted in February on a variety of topics. Results in another survey are expected to be presented in November. The number of community meetings held by the principal was also highlighted, though Ms. Hairston cited that the attendance was not as high as they would like it to be.

*Efforts for excellence in teaching were cited as well as building capacity for leadership and reflected on baseline data from a spring survey of administration.

*Among the areas targeted for the second year include teacher evaluation training; a leadership coach to support the development of instructional leadership skills, which is viewed as critical to the progress and growth of the principal and his leadership team; and having common priorities training four times in the school year, which is expected to focus on engaged student learning, effective lesson planning and instructional delivery and bridging the achievement gap between higher performing and lower achieving students.

Efforts were also noted to keep parent logs for school events to track parent/guardian involvement during school activities and that a parent involvement plan is to be developed to ensure parents and the community members are involved in the lives of students in the school system.

“I think that both the…high school and Cambridge deserve a great deal of credit for the major improvements in mathematics but also in science. And, in both of those disciplines, it's across the board,” cited school board member Dr. Ellery Sedgwick commented. “It's not just one science class or one math class, it's really across the board. Clearly, it was something that was happening there to make those improvements.”

He reflected that they've asked for concentration in those areas and “I think they gave it to us.”

On the flip side, Dr. Sedgwick also noted that he is “genuinely concerned about the increases in disciplinary infractions.” The numbers they have differ from those the board received in their retreat package, he said. Those numbers listed over 1,200 in the high school in 2009-10 and over 1,800 last year.

Still, he noted that he believes part of it is because there is more enforcement.

In Other News…

*Board Chairman Russell Dove noted the passing of former school board member Herbert Doswell, who served January 2005-December 2007.

*The membership (number of students) reported on the last day of September totaled 2,290 for kindergarten through twelfth grade.

*The school board approved a Virginia School Boards Association resolution in support of public education. The resolution seeks to have the Governor allocate a “fair share” of the $544.8 million in budget surplus to K-12 public education “to begin to restore funds cut from K-12 public education in Fiscal Years 2009, 2010, and 2011.”

*The school board agreed to sell two tire changers-one is listed as unrepairable and the second continues to break down-via sealed bids. Proceeds from the sale are targeted for auto servicing budget and plans are in place to purchase a newer more reliable and safer piece of equipment.

*Information was presented on the development calendar for the 2012-13 budget. Among the highlights: an initial budget work session is planned for January 23; a public hearing has been set for February 8 at the regular school board meeting; a tentative date of March 13 has been set to have dinner with the board of supervisors to discuss the budget; and the school board approves the final budget to be presented to the board of supervisors March 21.

*The board was presented with information on a planned parent opinion survey. The survey aims to stratify a random sample with all subgroups represented. A community opinion survey will be administered to school advisory councils. Results of the surveys are to be used by the schools and the division to make improvements.

*Board members discussed the results of a school board evaluation survey conducted with input from school board personnel in the school board office and building administrators. The survey ranked such areas as the board members working effectively as a team, being prepared for meetings and are current on trends in education; keeping abreast on what goes on in the schools and the central office; and provides sufficient administrative oversight or accountability of administrators and staff.

*It was noted that the geography bee has been set for December 20. Children in grades four through eight are eligible to participate. The division winner will be given an exam, which could lead to their participation in the state geography bee event.

*It was also noted that the division-wide spelling bee has been set for January 10 at the middle school. Participants also include students in grades four through eight. The division winner will represent the school at the state spelling bee March 30.

*It was noted that 112 flu vaccines were administered September 21.

*Several school board members asked about specific bills prior to approval of expenditures. One payment of $34,000 to the Regents of the University of California was questioned. It was noted it is for consultants for the walk-through program and training for teachers.

*School board member Darin Thomas cited a need for textbooks. He noted his daughter is enrolled in a criminal justice class and-referencing a parent-teacher conference-noted that he was shown the seven books that 20 students were using. Thomas noted that all the conferences he's gone to in the last six or eight years there's always an issue with adequate books in classrooms.

“We need to fix that,” he said.

*Dove presented a report on the school board's retreat, held December 10.

Among the issues highlighted:

There was some discussion on the increase in infractions in the area of discipline at the middle and high schools-particularly classroom disruptions and tardiness.

Possible impacts include a difference in classification, how the data is reported, change in high school administration and expectations.

He noted also cited concern that students with multiple infractions still participating in sports. The superintendent is to follow up.

Dove said that they also discussed AYP.

It was noted that they will advertise and fill a grant-funded intervention position.

The board, it was also cited as part of the summary, noted a decline in passing AP scores and also discussed a decline in governor's school participation, the graduation rate, the board's climate survey, SOL results (asking if there were a correlation between benchmark and SOL success), enrollment trends, discussed a teacher turnover report that spanned a six-year period and indicated a decline and a recent increase, discussed teacher evaluation, were provided detailed information on division initiatives and some recent administrative training, opted to continue the process of reviewing randomly selected evaluations as they have this past year, discussed an out-of-state field trip and approved the trip without board funding.

*School board members further discussed the status of the governor's school and future participation. Currently, there are four juniors in governor's school and one junior in pre-engineering, one senior in governor's school and one senior in pre-engineering.