Durham County

Is your child’s school low-performing? Improvement plans for schools on the way

Tamara Vanie (left) and husband David Vanie (right) speak at a meeting at Glenn Elementary School on Oct. 10 to discuss strategies to prevent a possible state takeover of the school.
Tamara Vanie (left) and husband David Vanie (right) speak at a meeting at Glenn Elementary School on Oct. 10 to discuss strategies to prevent a possible state takeover of the school. bthomas@heraldsun.com

Parents of children attending schools deemed low-performing by the state will soon receive letters from Durham Public Schools principals detailing improvement plans.

In all, DPS has 18 schools that are considered low-performing because the schools received a state performance grade of “D” or “F” and a school growth score of “met expected growth” or “did not meet expected growth.”

“We have an obligation to notify the parents of the low-performing status,”said Debbie Pitman, DPS assistant superintendent of student services. “Those letters [to parents] have been distributed to principals and they're customizing a little bit of information.”

Pitman said parents should have the letters by Monday, Nov. 6.

Parents can also view each school improvement plan on the DPS website starting Monday via NCStar, a web-based tool that guides a district or school team in charting its improvement and managing the improvement process.

The school board will be asked to give final approval to the improvement plans when it meets Dec. 7. The plans must be submitted to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction by Dec. 8.

At a DPS Board of Educaton work session last week, school board member Natalie Beyer took issue with how the state defines low-performing schools.

“I think this definition itself is flawed and further stigmatizing for our students,” Beyer said, explaining that she does not think schools that meet growth goals should be declared low-performing.

Several of the DPS schools deemed low-performing this year did meet growth goals, but under the state definition are still considered low-performing.

Of the schools considered low-performing, 12 are elementary schools. Three of them – Club Boulevard, Hope Valley and Oak Grove – entered into low-performing status this year after the latest round of state tests. District and individual school leaders will work to improve them using traditional strategies.

Six of the elementary schools – Bethesda, Eno Valley, Fayetteville Street, Glenn, Lakewood and Sandy Ridge – have been granted charter-like flexibility by the State Board of Education (SBE), which means they essentially lose their low-performing status and start over.

The state granted the schools “charter-like” flexibility in July. The move gives them more calendar flexibility to target their needs and provide more professional development, as well as increase daily instructional time.

It also gives DPS flexibility to route more money to professional development, support specific areas that affect student achievement and to convert positions including teaching assistants.

Brogden, Lowe's Grove, Lucas and Shepard middle schools and Southern School of Energy and Sustainability will also operate under the restart model.

DPS leaders used the restart model to argue against a threatened state takeover of Glenn and Lakewood Elementary schools, contending that the schools had already been granted “charter-like” flexibility to use in its reform efforts.

Because those two schools are low-performing, they were targets of the new N.C. Innovative School District (NCISD). Both were dropped from the list after fierce local protests, but had either school been chosen for NCISD inclusion, it would have been turned over to a private charter school management company.

Meanwhile, Eastway, C.C. Spaulding and W.G. Pearson elementary schools and Neal Middle School are the recipients of federal School Improvement Grants. The schools will use money from that program to fund reform efforts.

Six Durham schools — E.K. Powe, Y.E. Smith and Merrick-Moore elementary schools, Githens and Carrington middle schools and The School of Creative Studies — came off the state’s low-performing list this year.

Y.E. Smith and E.K. Powe were restart schools, along with Githens, but will not have to operate under the restart model as a result of students’ improved performance on state tests.

Continuing her criticism of the state legislature, Beyer asked if North Carolina lawmakers provided any money to help the Durham district pay for state-mandated school reforms.

“Does that come with any resources to support these students in these schools?” Beyer said. “Does it come with any professional development money?”

Pitman said she is unaware of any additional resources the schools will receive form the state as part of DPS’ effort to improve low-performing schools.

Beyer also said DPS should submit a letter with plans stating that the district disagrees with the designation of the schools as low-performing.

School board member Steve Unruhe said the reform plans should contain a quick reference to two or three areas the schools are working to improve.

“Pick two or three highlighted at the top of this [plan] so that every parent, every time they came into a building, would know that this school is doing vocabulary improvement this year,” Unruhe said. “That, I would find very helpful.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645