PE Boards Meet, Talk Turnaround

Published 4:29 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2012

PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors and school board members held a joint meeting January 31 to talk budgets, but there was also a question about the school's turnaround effort.

“…How's the Cambridge program working out?” asked Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck. “I understand we've been through two or three different representatives from Cambridge, is that correct?”

“That is correct,” responded Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith. “And those changes are exasperating…any break on continuity has an impact on teachers and students in the building.”

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Still, the superintendent would highlight, there are “lots of benefits that we're seeing from the Cambridge partnership and while it was a shock to everyone to receive the designation of a high school as turnaround school, what has happened is that the required changes are in effect paid for with federal dollars-turnaround funds.”

Prince Edward's High School has been in the turnaround mode since 2010. Of the 128 Title I schools, the County's high school ranked in the lowest five percent among those authorized, but which do not receive Title I funds and was designated in the turnaround program that year. The criteria weighed for the designation was 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.

School officials were tasked with certain criteria with the designation and selected Cambridge Education as their lead turnaround partner. The firm has been assisting the school and providing regular reports at the school board's monthly meetings.

Federal funds, totaling about $500,000 in each of three budgeted years, fuel the turnaround effort and are aimed at helping the school to improve.

“We are at the midpoint of that program and…a lot of that money is paid for the contract with Cambridge,” Dr. Smith cited. “The balance is used to pay salaries for the other support positions that were required to come with that.”

When the program ends, he also highlighted, those positions will be lost.

One of the things that has to happen during the course of the program, he said, is that the program is designed to move the school toward self sufficiency instead of a continued state of dependency.

Dr. Smith indicated that the first individual left in November of the first year-having started in July of that year and the superintendent noted that it was not planned. The changes that occurred just prior to Christmas were also not planned.

“The…person who is representing Cambridge working here now four days a week is a Henrico County native,” Dr. Smith said. “He was a retired Henrico principal, very successful, and we feel good about the work that he's already started doing with (High School Principal) Mr. (Craig) Reed and the rest of the high school staff and we have very high hopes that he'll be with us until the end of the program.”

School Board member Dr. Ellery Sedgwick also offered that there have been some documented gains, particularly in math and science at the high school. He said there were “very substantial” increases in the SOL pass rates “in all of the mathematics subjects and I believe in all of the science subjects.” He also pointed to a “very substantial improvement in attendance.”

Dr. Sedgwick assessed those are “largely the result of coordination” between the high school and Cambridge.

Smith said it is a combination of things, noting that Cambridge didn't come with a pre-planned program. They come with expertise with helping to manage school reform across the country and international settings as well.

“They have a variety of specialists and consultants that they bring for certain needs, different topics in professional development, for example,” Dr. Smith said. “But what they do here is completely different from what they are doing in other places. It's tailored to meet the needs of the locality, of the school.”

One of the things they have worked diligently on within the last few months, he cited, has been the improvement in the motivational work that's done to get children to school.

Teamwork, the superintendent highlighted, is an important part of Cambridge's work.

Dr. Smith also offered that one of the more intensive parts of their work has been with individual teachers, have been very active in classroom observations with the building administrators, are very active in their professional development-targeting specific topics within the four core curricula areas, and (an additional item, for which there was no charge) created a teacher observation raining component for their entire administrative staff (that has been expanded to all three schools).