MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 30, 2012

Poorly rated schools set improvement plans

They’re taking a variety of approaches

— Cherokee Elementary students soon will get group pictures taken for what Principal Suzie Orton calls a “Graduation Hall of Fame.”

Orton said she plans to have each picture made poster-sized and captioned with the class’ senior year. She wants students to affirmatively answer the question, “Are you still going to be there?”

Orton said she and her staff have high expectations for Cherokee, which the Oklahoma Department of Education has listed as a “Targeted Intervention” school. Targeted Intervention schools are those that received a D on the state’s A-F report card system but were not identified as Priority Schools.

The state compiled lists of schools this month under the following categories: Priority, Targeted Intervention, Focus, High Progress Reward and High Performing Reward. The designations are based on results of state tests in the 2012 school year and graduation rates.

Priority Schools are those that either made an F on the A-F system, rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools in each grade span in reading and math, or have a graduation rate below 60 percent for three consecutive years.

Focus Schools are the 10 percent of Oklahoma schools that either have the lowest performance of certain subgroups for reading and math or have the lowest graduation rates for certain subgroups.

High Progress Reward Schools rank in the top 10 percent of schools in improving math or reading from the previous year and the three years before.

High Performing Reward Schools received an A on the A-F system and did not miss more than two annual measurable objectives from the state.

Muskogee Public Schools had two High Progress Reward Schools, Whittier and Harris-Jobe elementaries. The district also had three Focus Schools: Grant Foreman and Pershing elementaries and Alice Robertson Junior High.

Cherokee and Grant Foreman were listed as Focus Schools last year, based on scores from the 2011 school year. Both started this school year with new principals.

The district is working with its Focus and Targeted Intervention schools to improve performance, said Peggy Jones, MPS’ executive director for curriculum and instruction. She said she is meeting with those principals to have them prepare a plan for improvement. She said the designations were mostly based on low-performing subgroups, particularly African-American boys.

“We are looking at our schools in every aspect,” Jones said. “We are looking at every strength, every weakness and how these schools are going to address them.”

Orton said Cherokee is working on its WISE Plan — Ways to Improve School Effectiveness.

“For us, this is not just a piece of paper. It is something we are already in the process of implementing,” she said.

For example, five Cherokee teachers and its instructional trainer met with the MPS instructional coach in June to align its classes with the Common Core Curriculum standards. Oklahoma schools are replacing their current curricula with Common Core standards, which are considered more rigorous.

“Classes are putting their Common Core objectives in their lesson plans,” Orton said. The school also has weekly team meetings to work on strengthening lesson plans and align them with Common Core, she said. The meetings are in addition to Professional Learning Community meetings that all MPS schools have Wednesday mornings.

Other MPS schools on the state’s list also are seeking to improve.

AR Principal Edwin Strickland said AR seeks to hire a math interventionist for students.

“Students who are not proficient in math lose an elective and have an intense math class added,” he said.

Focus Schools that do not meet the annual measurable objective for the identified subgroup must complete additional reports the second year, so the state can more closely monitor progress, said an Education Department communications specialist, Tricia Pemberton.

Three area schools were listed as Priority Schools — Cherokee Immersion Charter School, Okay High School and Porum High School.

Cherokee Immersion Charter School became a public charter school in 2010 and has about 120 students from age 3 to the eighth grade, said Gloria Sly, the Cherokee Nation’s government relations officer for educational services.

All classes are taught in the Cherokee language, Sly said.

“Children are taught from age 3 in Cherokee,” she said. “They have no English instruction until the fifth grade.”

However, according to Pemberton, all state tests are given in English.

“We face the same problems all immersion schools face,” Sly said. “They have to test in English. But I don’t know how, when it comes to testing, are we going to do it. It would almost be defeating what the mission of the school is.”

Cherokee Immersion Charter School received a C on its report card. One third of the grade is based on student performance in reading, math, social studies, science and writing. The school made an overall grade of a D, with an F in math.

Another third is based on student growth in math and reading. The school made an A in reading growth, but an F in math growth, averaging to a C.

Sly said last year was the first year Cherokee Immersion Charter School gave the state tests to its students.

“We don’t have any data showing how we scored the year before,” she said.

Pemberton said Oklahoma has seven language immersion schools.

“Most start in full immersion but are teaching 50/50 with English by fifth grade,” she said.

Cherokee Immersion Charter School is showing signs of improving, she said.

“They’re coming up with their own learning material, so they’re just so new at this,” she said.

Most other immersion schools teach Spanish or French and have access to years of curricula in their language, she said.

“For example, Eisenhower International School in Tulsa is a Blue Ribbon School. They teach in their immersion language as well as English,” Pemberton said.

Eisenhower received a grade of A.

Okay High School is in its second year as a Priority School. In August, the state presented the school with a list showing that the school has followed its improvement plan. The list said the faculty was trained in a literacy reading program.

Okay received a C on its report card.

Pemberton said Priority Schools must apply turnaround principles for three years.

“The requirements do not increase the second year they are on the list,” she said, adding that the 2011 lists were preliminary.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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