Report on schools grim for some here
Arizona Daily Star
Oct. 15, 2007
 

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Pima County's number not meeting state goals nearly doubles; 2 approach 'failing'

By Jeff Commings, Jamar Younger and Andrea Rivera

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/206306

The number of Pima County schools not meeting state standards nearly doubled this year, and two of those schools are in danger of becoming "failing" schools if they don't improve their performances next year. 

Three area schools tapped last year as "failing" a label given after three consecutive years of unsatisfactory work earned those same labels again this year, though officials say a turnaround could happen as state-recommended changes to help teachers and students continue. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of schools performing at or above standards statewide dropped only slightly in this year's report of how schools are performing on Arizona Learns. Little changed as far as Pima County's charter schools are concerned. Six are underperforming, one less than last year, and some earned higher labels. 

The report will be available to the public today. Arizona Learns is the state equivalent of the federal accountability system, called Adequate Yearly Progress. The state report gives schools one of six labels, while the federal government hands out a simple "pass" or "fail." 

In 2006, only 12 of 322 Pima County schools received "underperforming" or "failing" labels. This year, that number rose to 23 of 327, with 20 of those labeled "underperforming." 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the remedies in place at these struggling schools worked two years ago, when 70 of the state's 81 "underperforming" schools improved on Arizona Learns. 

"It's important to know that when schools are underperforming, we put a lot of work into those schools," he said. "And we have a record of doing well with those schools." 

Major changes at troubled schools

Hohokam Middle School, in the Tucson Unified School District, and Apollo Middle School, in the Sunnyside Unified School District, could become "failing" schools if they don't improve next year.  

Schools that earn three straight "underperforming" labels can be restructured under state plans, which can include staff reorganization and a new curriculum. 

Naylor Middle School, 1701 S. Columbus Blvd., received a second straight "failing" label this year under Arizona Learns. Principal Don Calhoun said it would have been "a miracle" if the school had earned a "performing" label this year because there was too much work to be done to bring the school back to standards in one year. 

"But I did get a miracle with this staff," he said, "and I have faith that we'll go performing." 

Among the new concepts in practice at Naylor is a team of educators who act as coaches for the new teachers who were hired when the Arizona Department of Education recommended a staff overhaul last year. Calhoun was one of the new hires, replacing Alice McBride. 

Rocky Sugameli, director of leadership development for the Marana Unified School District, has been working as Calhoun's mentor. Calhoun said the weekly meetings are productive. 

"We discuss the school and the things I'm doing," Calhoun said. "He sets up a plan of the things I should be doing." 

Students are getting more help with meeting standards in core subjects, he said. Teachers study quarterly benchmark tests to determine a student's trouble areas, and classes have been changed to a block schedule, allowing teachers to devote more time to key subjects 

Steve Holmes, TUSD's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the quarterly benchmarks are one of the key aspects of Naylor's potential re-emergence. 

"They are being effective, but we need to make sure we don't make that our only basis for effectiveness," Holmes said, adding that teacher support also must be nurtured. 

Horne said all the components are in place for Naylor to improve next year, adding that Calhoun's work at the school is the most important piece. 

"The overriding factor is leadership," Horne said. 

Community members have remained supportive of Naylor's and TUSD's attempts to improve the school. 

"My daughter is fine in the school," Ayala Trinidad said of sixth-grader Selena Acosta, 11. "She has good grades and good teachers. I think the principal is good, too." 

One student, however, said the changes have not helped. 

"They're trying to help, but it's not coming through to students," said seventh-grader Tiras Hamilton, 13. 

Hamilton said he was enrolled in the Read 180 class, a program that assesses reading comprehension, but he did not see any increased success. 

It was not known if Naylor's work last school year brought it closer to a "performing" label or if the school's progress remained stagnant. 

Holmes said the work being done at Naylor also is in place at Hohokam, 7400 S. Settler Road, where he said the leadership team has been stabilized and will help the school avoid a third straight "underperforming" label next year. He also mentioned monetary bonuses for math teachers willing to work at the school and a team of specialists to curb attendance and discipline problems. 

"We are certainly concerned," Holmes said. 

Ten of the county's 20 underperforming schools are in TUSD, the city's largest district. Holmes said many have been "on the bubble" between meeting and falling below standards for a few years. He said officials are looking into what formerly put those schools in the "performing" ranks and implement those procedures at all times. 

Problems, solutions in Sunnyside and Baboquivari

At Apollo Middle School, 265 W. Nebraska Ave., declines in math, reading and writing performance contributed to a second straight "underperforming" label, said Alex Duran, Sunnyside's head of research, assessment and evaluation. 

Besides receiving a state-approved improvement plan, the district's Governing Board approved the hiring of a new principal last spring, Duran said. 

"The school is making every concerted effort to make sure it never fails again," he said. 

Drexel Elementary School, 801 E. Drexel Road, was a "performing-plus" school last year, but Duran said it earned an "underperforming" label because classroom instruction faltered. 

"These are factors that need to be addressed more effectively and more closely," he said. 

The same procedures were put in place at Craycroft Elementary School, 5455 E. Littletown Road, three years ago when it earned a "failing" label, he said. It has earned two "performing-plus" labels since then. 

Negative labels continue to plague Sells' Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified School District.  

Baboquivari Middle School and Indian Oasis Intermediate School were labeled failing again. 

District officials could not be reached Friday, but in 2006, district Superintendent Joe Frazier said, "We're not where we want to be at, but we're getting there every day." 

Catalina Foothills a model for consistency

Other districts had schools earn improved labels this year, such as the Marana Unified and Vail Unified districts. 

For the fifth consecutive year, all seven schools in the Catalina Foothills School District achieved "excelling" status. 

"I attribute it to our teachers and our principals, and our strong parent involvement," said Mary Jo Conery, the district's assistant superintendent for 21st-century learning. "All of those groups of people work very hard on behalf of our students." 

Parents are aware of the district's commitment to students. 

Laura Wittman has a daughter, Kate, at Orange Grove Middle School and a son, Reed, at Catalina Foothills High School. 

"It's a community effort," said Wittman, who is involved in the Family Faculty Organizations at both of her children's schools. "We have parents on campus every day. You see an awful lot of support." 

How did your child's school fare? A searchable database of all public schools in the state is at go.azstarnet.com/AZLearns

● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 807-8431 or at jcommings@azstarnet.com.