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A School Is Declared

Ohanian Comment: Of course I have happy for any school that can get out from under this oppressive label, but this does raise certain questions. I wonder if two schools under the threat of the label couldn't trade students. Or do some other fancy enrollment shuffling with online students and so on.

Taking a momentary break, Robert Klatzkin, principal of Bayard Elementary School, sat down on a couch to explain why Bayard, which has sat on South Du Pont Street in Wilmington for 79 years, had suddenly become a "new" school.

Within seconds, his two-way radio squawked, "I need assistance in Room 145."

"Okay," Klatzkin barked back before excusing himself and heading off to help a substitute with a pupil who refused to take a timeout.

Some things in schools never change.

But overnight, a wrinkle in the No Child Left Behind federal school accountability law has changed Bayard from a troubled to a "new" school. The poor federal rating it was given in August has been erased because more than 60 percent of its students are new to the building.

Bayard is the first school in Delaware to be declared "new" in quite this way, state education officials said. And because it's "new," it won't be rated until the summer of 2006.

Officials in the Christina School District are sensitive about that, lest anyone think they're avoiding accountability.

"Right now we're working as hard to help the students at Bayard as we are at any school," said Andrew Hegedus, executive director of organizational development for the district.

At the school, though, teachers and other staff members are as relieved about the reprieve as they are hyped about the opportunity.

"Without that unfortunate burden of a label, it's given everybody a fresh start," said Klatzkin, back on the couch after escorting the child to the timeout room.

Everyone in education knows a school can't be judged by its federal label, but the bad ones still hurt, Klatzkin said. "It was the only fair thing to do in a school that really wants to do well," he said of the new designation.

Much is new at school

Under No Child Left Behind, there have been newly constructed schools in Delaware that escaped federal ratings. Bayard's newness is the result of the Christina School District's transformation plan, which is ending busing for racial balancing, closing some schools and changing grade configurations in almost all of them.

Bayard used to be what Christina dubbed an intermediate school, which explains the blue lockers in the hallways, covered now with kindergarten cutouts and drawings. And Klatzkin used to be principal at the Drew-Pyle Intermediate School, which was closed to make way for new district offices.

Much of the Drew-Pyle population, which started at fourth grade, landed at Bayard.

The elementary school has almost 1,300 students, twice that in other elementary schools.

In addition, more than half the students are low-income and most are minorities. Measured by test scores, neither Delaware nor Christina have been as successful with those student groups as with white, middle-class children.

Klatzkin isn't complaining, however. "We deal with the cards we're dealt," he said as he joined kindergartners and first-graders on their way to the cafeteria.

Despite the "lips and hips" rule - one hand on hips, the other on lips so there's no talking or hitting - little voices rose from the single-file lines, "Hi, Mr. K."

In the cafeteria, it was the same from the orange and blue tables. "Hi, Mr. K," said little voices.

"Hi, sweetheart," Klatzkin would respond. "Is lunch good?" he asked.

Amid a sea of pigtails and plastic hair beads, children still wore name tags around their necks. It was hamburger and hot dog day - foot-long hot dogs. Unable to resist the novelty, several small hands dangled foot-longs in the air, twisting them around in delight before depositing the dogs back in their buns and chowing down.

"This is my first experience with [kindergarten through second grade] and I love it," Klatzkin said.

He and the staff, 34 percent of whom also are new to Bayard, inherited the school's poor rating, the history of which is a window on how the federal system operates and why it's such a relief to be off the precipitous downward path this year.

A welcome reprieve

For the 2002-03 academic year, Bayard received a rating of academic review. To get the good ratings of commendable or superior, schools must hit a series of academic targets for various student subgroups, such as African-American, Hispanic, low-income and special education.

This past academic year, 2003-04, Bayard hit all but one of its 23 targets. It had so many because its student population was so diverse. Despite the academic progress, one miss is all it took to fall downward into the next lowest rating category, academic watch.

Each lower category carries with it more sanctions, until, after about five years, the staff can be removed and the school handed over to a private management firm or made into a charter school.

Since the federal ratings are based on constantly improving student test scores, however, a new school can't be rated. Student testing the first year only produces baseline data for ratings in subsequent years.

To climb up out of a poor rating category, a school must hit 100 percent of its academic targets for two consecutive years. That's a tall order for any school, particularly one with as many targets as Bayard.

With so many new students at the school, order and organization have been the first priority of the academic year, which helps explain why in the opening month of school the Fabulous Four - respect, responsibility, caring and trustworthiness - reign at Bayard. The school's new approach to behavior is a positive approach resting on the Fab 4, as they are called.

Adults, including custodians, carry purple coupons around. If children are spotted doing a good deed or behaving well, they get coupons. Once they earn enough, they get rewards ranging from pizza parties to reading time to grab-bag prizes or phone calls home to tell parents how well-behaved they are.

Mary Crowley, one of three guidance counselors in the school, explained that under the new approach, for every negative thing a staff member says to a child, the staff member must say four positive things.

"It's a lot of work, but the benefits are great," Crowley said.

Alexis Watson, assistant principal for kindergarten and the lower grades, said the positive approach has other benefits too. It makes it clear to the children that the adults are in charge. "That makes them feel safe and comfortable to learn," Watson said.

Brittnie Lopez, a first-grader with a flaming red ponytail, volunteered a suggestion about how to even better organize her day, specifically her lunch time.

"We should have recess first," said the pint-size critic. "Because when we have recess after lunch, we run around and we might throw up."

Contact Michele Fuetsch at 324-2386 or at mfuetsch@delawareonline.com.

— Michele Fuetsch
The News Journal


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