STRUGGLING SCHOOLS; Give Plan a Chance

Article excerpt

CITY OF HOPE

Raising Our Children

High stakes testing has just been raised to a new level.

If students in four struggling schools don't make enough progress this year, their schools could be pushed to charters, outside managers or be closed.

Those options can be viewed as an improvement, given the poor reading scores at the schools in question: Raines, Ribault and Jackson high schools and North Shore K-8.

Nevertheless, this superintendent and this School Board are trying to do the right thing for these students.

They need a collaborative relationship with state leaders and not the confrontational one that is emerging.

POOR COMMUNICATION

There has been a disconnect in communication between local leaders and State Education Commissioner Eric Smith, typified by the tough rhetoric of Board Chairman W.C. Gentry toward Smith.

It's unfortunate in light of the decision by Smith's office to turn down the school district's plan for the schools.

Smith says that if the schools do not make adequate progress on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, then they would need to choose one of three remaining options: Close the school and transfer students, choose a charter or choose an outside management company.

With charters and outside managers, the school district still would oversee them.

In a meeting with The Times-Union editorial board, Smith indicated that it could be possible to use one of the options more than once.

For instance, if one charter company failed, then move on to another one. So why not use a second turnaround plan? That is exactly what the School Board is proposing.

And if a school did something like raise its proportion of students proficient in reading from 11 percent to 20 percent, Smith might be inclined positively, he said.

That's an unlikely one-year jump.

Smith said that after meeting with community members that he understands why there is stress over the future of the schools. They have history; they're part of the fabric of the neighborhoods.

A BETTER OPTION

If the School Board's turnaround plan, which involves splitting the high schools into themed programs, seems inadequate, then kick it back and ask for improvements.

For instance, unless there is major improvement on reading, it is unlikely that the schools will be removed from the state's list of intervene schools.

There are 12 Florida schools on that list, four from Duval County.

One high school, Lake Worth in Palm Beach County, managed to get off the intervene list, though progress still is fragile, Smith said. …