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3 Rockford schools face restructuring

Ohanian Comment: I'm not going to enumerate the items that enrage. You'll see for yourself. Your federal tax dollars at work, degrading children who have no defense.

ROCKFORD — The hardwood floors and the orderly children of Jackson Elementary give no hint that it’s one of three Rockford schools about to face the toughest sanctions available under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Children walk in neat rows through the 102-year-old school, hands behind their backs because that is how an “excellent student from Jackson School” walks the hallways — with respect. You can sense the children are learning to take pride in their school and, maybe, pride in themselves.

But Jackson, Swan Hillman and Washington schools have not met the state’s target for adequate yearly progress on standardized tests for five years — predating the official 2002 start of the act. These schools have high numbers of students from low-income families (about 90 percent at each) and they are the first in Winnebago and Boone counties to face restructuring, the most stringent school status under No Child Left Behind.

Jackson missed last year by just a few correct answers. Principal Michael Francis said he’s confident the school will make it when the students take this year’s test in March.

“We want to be the first to make AYP (adequate yearly progress) through academic improvement, not just the numbers,” Francis said. “We need to get these kids up: Kid pride, staff pride.”

By late February, the district must turn over to state officials improvement plans that could involve hiring an education consultant. They are among 220 schools in the state facing restructuring this year, said Gail Lieberman, special assistant for NCLB to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Lieberman said there are four options in federal law for restructuring:

n Reopen as a public charter school.

n Replace all or most of the school staff.

n Hire a consultant to train and improve staff.

n Turn school management over to state or a private management group.

“One or more is sufficient,” Lieberman said.

Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes said school personnel are unlikely to lose their jobs during restructuring.

She said state officials will be willing to consider steps the district has already taken to improve student performance in approving the plans. Those have included an extra half-hour school day, curriculum help for staff, reading coaches for students, and the implementation last year of a new reading instructional strategy.

Hayes said officials are negotiating a contract with the Center for Performance Enhancement, an organization dedicated to improving instruction and student performance. Working with the consultant is likely to be a cornerstone of the restructuring plan.

The district has worked with the company this year to improve teaching methods. A contract with the company would give the district access to greater and more detailed analysis of what kids are learning and where improvement is needed.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said fine tuning is needed at Jackson and Hillman where students have made adequate progress in math, but fallen short of making enough progress in reading.

Washington is another story.

Only 17.5 percent of Washington students met state standards for reading and 28.1 percent for math last year, far below the state target of 47.5 percent, according to the school’s adequate yearly progress report.

The district averaged 51.9 percent meeting standards on all state tests.

“We need a major overhaul at Washington,” Thompson said. “I think we are going to make progress this year at Washington, I just don’t know if it will be enough.”

Hiring a permanent principal could be one step.

Thompson said retired school administrator Katie Hall has done a good job as principal at Washington this year, but state pension regulations make it a temporary assignment. She did not return a phone call seeking comment on the school’s restructuring plans.

Students at the three schools spend their extra half-hour school day improving their writing skills and reading comprehension. The work is geared to improve standardized test scores.

Last year, some kids were coming to school hungry, second-year Swan Hillman School Principal Ivelisse Rosas said.

It’s tough to concentrate on your school work, much less boost state test scores, when you have a hunger headache before lunch time.

Hillman this year has a breakfast program for low-income students.

Rosas has also attempted to improve the school’s atmosphere and made improving the children’s self-esteem a priority.

She is hoping the breakfasts, reading coaches and extended school day will pay off on the tests in March.

Although the numbers show Hillman is a struggling school, Rosas said it is not failing.

“We are gaining, making progress every day,” Rosas said.

“I hope we can meet the target and next year be out of restructuring.”

Contact: jkolkey@rrstar.com;815-987-1374

School profiles

Swan Hillman, Jackson and Washington elementary schools are in federal restructuring status under the No Child Left Behind Act. Improvement plans must be submitted to state officials by late February.

Swan Hillman Elementary
# Enrollment: 484
# Low income: 90.2 percent
# Minority: 71.6 percent
# Limited English: 32.7 percent
2005 adequate yearly progress status report:
# Target: 47.5 percent of students meeting standards
Scores for all students: Reading, 41.8 percent; math, 53.6 percent

Jackson Elementary
# Enrollment: 254
# Low income: 89.8 percent
# Minority: 55.6 percent
2005 adequate yearly progress status report:
# Target: 47.5 percent meeting standards
# Scores for all students: Reading, 44.6 percent; math, 52.7 percent

Washington Elementary
# Enrollment: 369 students
# Low income: 87.7 percent
# Minority: 79.6 percent
2005 adequate yearly progress status report:
# Target: 47.5 percent meeting standards
# Scores for all students: Reading, 17.5; math, 28.1 percent

Sources: 2005 ISBE school report cards, 2005 AYP status reports, district officials

What the law requires

The federal school accountability law called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires all states to measure each public school’s achievement and establish annual achievement targets.

The overarching goal is for all students to meet or exceed standards in reading and math by 2014.

Each year, the state calculates adequate yearly progress to determine if students are improving their performance based on the annual targets. Last year’s target was for47.5 percent of students to meet standards for reading and math.

Schools can face sanctions when they do not meet the targets for five consecutive years. These measures escalate and could include offering some parents the option to transfer students to better-performing schools, offering after-school tutoring, and submitting school-improvement plans while in corrective action.

Restructuring is the most severe status a school can face under the law and requires districts to reopen the schools as public charter schools, replace school staff deemed responsible for the school’s failure to make AYP, contract with an educational consultant to improve education, or to change school governance.

Source: Illinois StateBoard of Education

— staff
Rockford Registar Star


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