ambitious plan to bolster all schools
Arizona Daily Star
By George B.
Arizona | Published:
Tucson's largest school
district has unveiled an ambitious improvement plan to offset its poor standing
under federal accountability standards.
The plan seeks to raise
standards districtwide, not just at schools that are facing some form of state
or federally mandated improvement.
Steve Holmes, assistant
superintendent for teaching and learning, presented the plan last week to the
Tucson Unified School District Governing Board.
TUSD's Corrective Action Plan
generally calls for further school improvement accountability and a districtwide
literacy plan, and specifically calls for more rigorous English as a second
language programs at middle schools and teaching strategies that culturally
resonate with American Indian students.
In the past, TUSD offered aid
to schools and students after they fared poorly on benchmark tests. Now, Holmes
explained, the district needs to push all its students to do better, not just
those who need extra help.
"We haven't had a system in
place to be preventative," he said. "We've been more reactive."
In May, Holmes represented
TUSD at an education summit in Phoenix for all school districts that missed
federal standards, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, for two years in a row.
A total of 23 Arizona school
districts, including the Sunnyside Unified School District and the Indian Oasis
Baboquivari Unified School District, were summoned because they were facing
corrective action under the No Child Left Behind Act. The Arizona Department of
Education called the meeting to collectively strategize what districts needed to
do to improve.
State officials say a
districtwide approach is needed.
"We're beginning to see that
more," said Steve Henneberg, a Title 1 program specialist for the state
Department of Education. "It's one of those things we've emphasized, whether
(schools are) in improvement or not."
Title 1 funding is determined
by federal Census poverty statistics. Title 1 funds are distributed to schools
based on the number of students who receive free or reduced-cost meals.
Federal guidelines under No
Child Left Behind require school districts, schools and student groups to
improve every year, aiming for a goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and
reading by 2014.
Adequate Yearly Progress is
judged by the percentage of students tested and the percent of students who meet
or exceed reading and math standards set by the government. If a single student
group doesn't meet those standards, there can be consequences for the entire
school and its district.
The federal government has
divided students into eight such groups: Anglo, black, Hispanic, American
Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, "economically disadvantaged," English-language
learners and special-education students.
During Holmes' presentation
Tuesday, the board learned special-education students in sixth, seventh, eighth
and 10th grades and American Indian students in 10th grade were not meeting the
percentage of students required to be tested. Ninety-five percent of each
student group needs to be tested per federal standards.
English-language learners and American Indian students also were not meeting
federal math and reading proficiency goals.
"Our Native American students
in general are not doing well, and that's a big concern," Holmes said.
The corrective-action plan
calls for parent forums to discuss the issue and teacher education of Pascua
Though Pascua Yaqui Tribe
officials had not been notified of the corrective-action plan, they said they
welcome the opportunity work with TUSD to improve student achievement.
"We believe in our children.
We know they can learn, and we'll work with TUSD as much as we can, but we'd
like to see TUSD reach out more," said Alena Hernandez, education division
director for the tribe.
She noted successful
partnerships between the tribe and TUSD are occurring at Johnson Primary School
and Lawrence Intermediate School.
Pilar Thomas, chief of staff
for Pascua Yaqui Chairwoman Herminia Frias, said the Tribal Council voted on
June 27 to give TUSD $50,000 from its gaming revenue. The money, she explained,
will go toward improving American Indian student performance, attendance and
TUSD also has acknowledged
its problems at schools that largely serve the Yaqui community, such as Hohokam
Middle School, 7400 S. Settler Road, which had three principals in the last
school year and was labeled "underperforming" under Arizona Learns, the state
equivalent of Adequate Yearly Progress.
English-language learners, as a student subgroup, also will receive more
attention under the new plan, Holmes said, including integrating their needs
into the new districtwide literacy plan.
Across the district, each
school also will receive a school accountability plan, Holmes said, which will
be devised and implemented by principals and teachers. To make sure those plans
go into effect, principal supervisors, along with subject experts, will perform
academic audits at each school.
The audits, Holmes said, are
part of what separates the corrective action plan from previous improvement
attempts. But TUSD has to be clear with its staff that the audits aren't
punitive, he noted.
"This is that fine line
between pressure and support," Holmes said. "For every unit of accountability,
we need to give them a unit of support."
Along with school-to-school
accountability plans, Holmes proposed that schools on the verge of failing or
restructuring be labeled "superintendent schools" and receive more oversight and
resources. Those schools are Naylor Middle School, Hohokam, Lawrence
Intermediate School and Roberts Elementary School.
Naylor, 1701 S. Columbus
Blvd., already is receiving extra funding after being labeled failing by the
state. The school will get new staff and administrative support to the tune of
about half a million dollars, Holmes said.
Though state law calls for
Title 1 funds to be redirected for improvement, there is no additional reserve
of money for schools or districts in corrective action, said Jill Andrews, the
state's improvement director for school districts and charter schools.
State officials have not set
a timeline for TUSD's corrective plan, nor is there a date by which they expect
to see results.
"Overall, increased student
achievement for all districts will be the greatest indicator," said Kimberly
Allen, director of state intervention for Arizona Learns.
Download a PDF version of
TUSD's corrective action plan at azstarnet.com/education
● Contact reporter George B.
Sánchez at 573-4195 or at email@example.com.