District tight-lipped as 2 schools work to im­prove

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY GIUSEPPE SA­BELLA

MANA­TEE

The School District of Mana­tee County has less than a year to avoid los­ing con­trol of two schools, and district lead­ers have re­mained largely silent dur­ing the process.

Blanche H. Daugh­trey El­e­men­tary and G.D. Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock El­e­men­tary, both Ti­tle I schools in Braden­ton, are work­ing to­ward a C grade af­ter they re­ceived D’s for the past three years.

The state re­leases school grades dur­ing the sum­mer. If they fall short, both schools will con­tract with an “ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tor” to run the schools, ac­cord­ing to re­ports sent to the Florida De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The out­side agency is re­quired to have “a record of school im­prove­ment in turn­ing around schools that are high-

BOTH SCHOOLS WERE RE­QUIRED TO SUB­MIT A PLAN FOR THE TURN­AROUND PROCESS, EN­SUR­ING THEY CAN TRAN­SI­TION IF EI­THER FAILS TO EARN A C THIS YEAR.

poverty and low-per­form­ing with stu­dents of sim­i­lar de­mo­graph­ics.”

The out­come will af­fect more than 1,200 stu­dents be­tween both schools.

Teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors are un­der great pres­sure to earn a C grade, sav­ing the schools from a tran­si­tion to out­side con­trol, but few peo­ple are will­ing to share the re­sults of the ef­forts so far.

A reporter asked district spokesman Mike Bar­ber about the turn­around process on Aug. 8. He de­clined to com­ment the next day, cit­ing busy em­ploy­ees and the start of a new school year

“The district will be happy to dis­cuss the turn­around sta­tus of the schools you are look­ing into once the new school year is up and run­ning and our more than 48,000 stu­dents and 7,000 em­ploy­ees are back in the rou­tine of teach­ing and learn­ing,” his email states.

On Fri­day, nearly three months later, district spokes­woman Melissa Parker said the di­rec­tor of school im­prove­ment would an­swer ques­tions.

But school-level em­ploy­ees – those on the front line of every turn­around process – were off lim­its.

“Our prin­ci­pals are fo­cused on im­prov­ing the grades of Daugh­trey El­e­men­tary School and Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock El­e­men­tary School,” her email states. “They have an im­por­tant job and they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to work with the teach­ers and stu­dents to achieve a ‘C’ grade. The district is do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to sup­port those ef­forts.”

Lead­ers at both schools file a quar­terly State of the School re­port. A re­quest for the re­ports was not re­turned by Fri­day evening, and nei­ther prin­ci­pal would share her ob­sta­cles, plans or achieve­ments.

Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock’s prin­ci­pal, Pat

Stream, abruptly hung up af­ter an­swer­ing her school phone on Fri­day af­ter­noon.

An email to Prin­ci­pal Marla Massi-Black­more, of Daugh­trey El­e­men­tary, was not re­turned.

Pamela Craig, di­rec­tor of school im­prove­ment for the school district, then left a voice mail with the in­quir­ing reporter.

“We re­ally would like at this time for the fo­cus to re­main on what they’re do­ing to im­prove their schools, and not have you out there vis­it­ing them or talk­ing to them,” she said.

“They’re not try­ing to be rude, they are just over­whelmed and try­ing to fo­cus on the pos­i­tive,” Craig said in a fol­low-up phone call.

WHAT NEXT?

Daugh­trey and Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock had to choose be­tween three backup plans: close, con­vert to a char­ter school or con­tract with an out­side agency.

Both schools were re­quired to sub­mit a plan for the turn­around process, en­sur­ing they can tran­si­tion if ei­ther fails to earn a C this year.

The Braden­ton Her­ald ob­tained both re­ports from the state De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The schools chose “ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tor” as their backup plan, and the district will have to choose a com­pany by Jan­uary.

“Hir­ing an ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tor al­lows the school to make in­struc­tional changes that are lim­ited due to the district teacher con­tract,” ac­cord­ing to both plans. “It will pro­vide ad­di­tional flex­i­bil­ity in sched­ul­ing and in­struc­tion.”

Along with stu­dent suc­cess, some teach­ers are work­ing to pro­tect their jobs. A teacher rated as “un­sat­is­fac­tory” or “needs im­prove­ment” would not be al­lowed to work un­der the ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tor.

The rat­ings are based on two sys­tems: the state’s Value-Added Model (VAM) and the district’s own method.

But VAM scores only af­fect cer­tain teach­ers, and all teach­ers are cur­rently rated as “ef­fec­tive” or “highly ef­fec­tive” un­der the district’s sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to Craig, the school im­prove­ment di­rec­tor.

She said both schools are poised for suc­cess, each oper­at­ing un­der the di­rec­tion of solid lead­ers.

“A new prin­ci­pal with a proven track record of rais­ing stu­dent achieve­ment has been placed at the school,” ac­cord­ing to Daugh­trey’s re­port. “She has es­tab­lished weekly planning with ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers and coaches who have a record of turn­ing around schools.”

Massi-Black­more, the prin­ci­pal at Daugh­trey, is also head­ing James Till­man El­e­men­tary.

She suc­cess­fully im­proved the grade at Till­man from an F to a B, and she did the same at Black­burn El­e­men­tary School, where she pre­vi­ously worked.

Stream, the prin­ci­pal at Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock El­e­men­tary, ef­fected bet­ter grades dur­ing her ten­ure at Samoset El­e­men­tary School. And both schools are now staffed with two as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals.

“G.D. Rogers Gar­denBul­lock has a clearly de­fined plan to im­prove stu­dent achieve­ment,” ac­cord­ing to the school’s re­port. “The school re- ceives weekly district sup­port and quar­terly data mon­i­tor­ing.”

Craig said each prin­ci­pal is backed by teach­ers who of­ten work three to five ex­tra hours per week. They teach Satur­day classes, at­tend weekly meet­ings, im­ple­ment new pro­grams and at­tend reg­u­lar train­ing.

“Even though they get paid for those ex­tra hours, it’s very toil­ing for the amount of work they put in for this,” she said. “But both schools seem to be very pos­i­tive.”

Their plans are sim­i­lar: track stu­dent per­for­mance, com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies and make changes when nec­es­sary.

An ex­tended sched­ule al­lows for more read­ing in­struc­tion, and both schools use “Acalet­ics” pro­grams for math and sci­ence. Tu­tor­ing and “small group aca­demic in­ter­ven­tion” are also uti­lized.

As the di­rec­tor of school im­prove­ment, Craig knows the im­por­tance of both over­sight and sup­port. She said the district tracks stu­dent per­for­mance and rec­om­mends changes when­ever nec­es­sary.

“This is a process, and every pos­si­ble re­source the district can pro­vide, we are pro­vid­ing,” she said.

A CLOSER LOOK

Teach­ers are work­ing espe­cially hard to over­come lan­guage bar­ri­ers.

Nearly half the stu­dents at Daugh­trey are English­language learn­ers, and the same is true for 32 per­cent of stu­dents at Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock.

In the past three years, English learn­ers at Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock have con­tin­u­ally done worse on the Florida Stan­dards As­sess­ments, ac­cord­ing to its turn­around re­port.

Craig said the district is uti­liz­ing two prod­ucts, Imag­ine Learn­ing and Lan­guage Mas­tery, to help the stu­dents.

“We still have stu­dents com­ing in with lim­ited English-speak­ing skills, so we have to bring them up to par as quick as we can,” she said.

The schools’ stu­dent pop­u­la­tions are largely com­prised of mi­nori­ties, mean­ing those who re­ported as “non-white,” ac­cord­ing to the re­ports.

Of the 738 stu­dents at Daugh­trey, 78.5 per­cent are His­panic and ap­prox­i­mately 11 per­cent are African-Amer­i­can. At Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock, about 52 per­cent of the

512 stu­dents are His­panic, and 33 per­cent are African-Amer­i­can.

Nei­ther re­port spec­i­fies the de­mo­graph­ics of teach­ers or school ad­min­is­tra­tors.

WE STILL HAVE STU­DENTS COM­ING IN WITH LIM­ITED ENGLISH-SPEAK­ING SKILLS, SO WE HAVE TO BRING THEM UP TO PAR AS QUICK AS WE CAN.

Pamela Craig, di­rec­tor of school im­prove­ment THE SCHOOLS’ STU­DENT POP­U­LA­TIONS ARE LARGELY COM­PRISED OF MI­NORI­TIES, MEAN­ING THOSE WHO RE­PORTED AS “NON-WHITE,” AC­CORD­ING TO THE RE­PORTS.

The ma­jor­ity of stu­dents are eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged, mean­ing they qual­ify for free or re­duced-price lunches.

And be­tween 17 to 25 per­cent of the chil­dren are en­rolled in Ex­cep­tional Stu­dent Ed­u­ca­tion, a state pro­gram for gifted stu­dents and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties.

Both schools also face be­hav­ioral prob­lems and ab­sences, though Craig feels they are im­prov­ing with com­mu­nity out­reach.

About 45 per­cent of stu­dents at Daugh­trey were re­cently at risk of not meet­ing key mile­stones due to their at­ten­dance, the re­ports said. The same was true for 55 per­cent of stu­dents at Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock.

Last year, 21 stu­dents re­ceived in-school sus­pen­sions and 91 stu­dents re­ceived out-of-school sus­pen­sions at Daugh­trey. At Rogers Gar­den-Bul­lock, 11 stu­dents re­ceived in­school sus­pen­sions and 62 re­ceived out-of-school sus­pen­sions.

State, district and school ad­min­is­tra­tors are now work­ing to­gether in hopes of turn­ing the schools around.

“It’s tremen­dously stress­ful,” Craig said. “Ev­ery­thing is pub­lic. There’s a lot of pres­sure to move kids quickly.”

TIFFANY TOMP­KINS-CONDIE ttomp­kins@braden­ton.com

Prin­ci­pal Marla Massi-Black­more wel­comes stu­dents at her pre­vi­ous school, Black­burn El­e­men­tary in Pal­metto. Massi-Black­more is now prin­ci­pal at Daugh­trey El­e­men­tary.

Pamela Craig

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