Failing schools to get help: Low test scores, dropout rates have caught officials’ attention.
The Pueblo Chieftain
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Six Pueblo schools will be very different when the new school year starts in August, under orders from state and federal officials unhappy with dropout rates and low test scores.
Four of the district’s middle schools, Central High School and the Youth and Family Academy charter school are on “turnaround” status, required by the No Child Left Behind law for poor-performing schools.
Pueblo City Schools administrators are working on what the changes will be and looking at a number of consulting firms that promise to show the district new methods to solve the schools’ problems.
Three of the four middle schools came as no surprise, Risley, Pitts and Freed have been struggling to make adequate yearly progress for several years but last week, the state added Roncalli to the list.
On Monday, Darryl Bonds, assistant commissioner for turnaround and intervention for the Colorado Department of Education, was in Pueblo to meet with the district administrators and introduce representatives from one potential consultant, Global Partnership Schools. Bonds said state officials initially wanted to give YAFA a pass because of the challenges facing its students, many of them single mothers or others with problems at home but the U.S. Department of Education insisted its low graduation rate, less than 60 percent, put it in the turnaround ranks. The charter school is run by the Pueblo Youth Service Bureau.
The other schools have failed to make the cut for other reasons, including low scores on state tests. Central has the lowest graduation rate of the district’s four traditional high schools — 74 percent last year — but above the 60 percent cut off. District spokesman Greg Sinn said the school was added to the list because of failure to make adequate yearly progress gains over the last three years and a poor showing in test scores after about 100 students opted out of exams a couple of years ago.
Bonds said that the next step will be for the district to put together plans on how they will turn the schools around.
Short of closure, available options mean at least getting in new principals and in some cases shifting out half or more of the teachers.
Bonds said if districts fail to act, the Colorado Board of Education can take action on its own to turn the troubled schools over to charters, close them or find someone else to run them.
Pueblo is not likely to drag its feet, Bonds said. The state has received $37 million in federal funds to provide grants of $350,000 to $1 million per school for the lowest-performing schools in Colorado.
The district has until April 18 to submit its plans.
Superintendent Kathy West said the most drastic choice, closing the schools, would not be likely but they may undergo substantial changes.
The last time the district faced this was with Fountain Elementary School and Corwin Middle School. Former Superintendent John Covington obtained a $7 million, three-year federal grant to turn them into magnet schools offering International Baccalaureate programs.
Many of the under-performing students went off to other schools, new principals were assigned and they hand-picked their faculties.
That won’t happen this time, West said. “Where would the kids go? Where would the teachers go? We can’t send everybody to Heaton and teachers would have to be IB certified for Corwin,” she said, referring to the two middle schools not on the list.
Some teachers and administrators will be moved, she said, and a lot more training will be needed.
The six schools, she said, “will not look next fall like they look today.”
West has known for some time that some schools are going to be restructured, although she said in the last couple of weeks, it’s been a moving target.
“We’re going to think really outside the box,” she said, suggesting that some could be turned into K-8 schools.
Over the last few years, the district has poured a lot of its own money and numerous grants into training teachers to be more effective and principals to be stronger leaders but West said all that has to be part of a unified, system-wide plan.
West, who has been a teacher in the district and was principal of the regularly high-performing Goodnight School before joining the central administration, said that the district has to look at its own schools that work well. “One thing we haven’t done well is learn from our own,” she said.
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