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Flint Moves to Help Struggling Schools

Flint - The five Flint schools facing the harshest sanctions under federal education reform are taking the most lenient of the five options available to them.

Flint School District administrators have opted to implement changes at the five schools instead of more drastic shakeups such as removing the principal and teachers or turning the school over to a private company or the state.

"We want to work to improve strategies instead of moving people around," said Linda Caine-Smith, co-chief of schools for the district. "Moving people from one chair to another is not going to change the effectiveness of that person."

The changes are in response to the punitive portion of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Under the law, schools must meet "adequate yearly progress," which in Michigan means they must improve scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests.

AYP is divided into five phases, with the fifth being the worst. The five schools in Flint - Brownell, Civic Park, Garfield Edison and Summerfield elementary schools and Whittier Middle School - plus two in the Westwood Heights School District, Westwood Elementary and Hamady Middle School, go to phase five next year. They have the following options:

Close and reopen as a public charter school.

Replace all or most of the staff, including the principal, who are considered relevant to the AYP failure.

Contract with an outside organization proven to be effective in operating a school.

Turn the school's operation over to the state, if the state agrees.

Restructure the school governance and make significant changes to improve student learning.

Flint has decided on the last option and is now forming a plan for the schools.

Westwood Heights hasn't decided which option to take and is forming a team of parents, school officials, teachers and others to make a plan, said Steve Overweg, Westwood Heights superintendent.

The main change in Flint is that major decisions for the five schools, such as curriculum and how to provide instruction, will be made by school administrators in the central office instead of at the building level, Caine-Smith said.

"We're retaking charge over some of the decisions," Caine-Smith said.

Some of the changes being considered are requiring student uniforms, having monthly conferences regarding student work and bringing in new or different curriculum, Caine-Smith said, adding that the changes still are being formed and should be completed in about a week.

By law, the changes must be in place by the start of the 2004-05 school year or the district could risk losing millions in federal dollars.

Sending letters

As required by law, the district sent letters last week to families in the 14 schools in various phases of the not-meeting adequate yearly progress' process, saying they had the right to send their children to other higher-performing Flint schools.

About 6,500 letters went out, and so far the district has received calls from 22 parents. Only one parent asked for a transfer request form; the rest had questions about the letter.

Some parents also received letters saying they had the right to get supplemental services, such as tutoring, for their children at the district's expense. About 1,000 students have signed up for the tutoring.


Better marks: State corrects two local schools' evaluations, A12.

— Matt Bach
Flint Journal


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