By JESSICA CRAWFORD
and EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
For four consecutive years, South Middle School has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). As a result, the USD No. 480 program is currently undergoing the process of restructuring.
Similar AYP issues exist with Liberal High School, and the district was notified of needed changes to meet the federal requirements. If the federal government steps in, the future of LHS is unclear.
After being on improvement for the past three years, the fourth year – this year – is when the restructuring of South Middle School takes place.
“South has been on some kind of improvement for a few years,” Director of Curriculum and Staff Development Lana Evans said. “This being the fourth year, we are required by the No Child Left Behind law to start planning what is called restructuring,” Evans said. “So we have been planning that out all year long.”
The federal government has recently added a new way to determine low performing schools dubbed the 1003(g) school improvement fund, Evans said. South Middle School fits into newly modeled Tier I, stating they are a Title I eligible school. Liberal High School has just been determined to have fallen into Tier II, Title I eligible secondary schools.
“South was placed in Tier I, amongst the lowest 5 percent performing schools in the State of Kansas,” Evans said. “Tier I is the lowest achieving elementary schools. For No Child Left Behind, elementary is considered K-8.
“Then they have Tier II, which is secondary schools, lowest achieving,” she explained. “With their demographics, they qualify for Title I, but have never been a Title I school. So, they qualify for Tier 2 because they aren’t receiving any funds, but they are in the lowest achieving when the calculations were done.”
Although LHS has not been receiving Title I funds before the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, the fact that it qualifies alone puts them on the radar with the federal government for its lack of meeting AYP. Since 2003-04, LHS has not met AYP in math and has achieved in reading three times, Evans said.
“Because they weren’t a Title I school, they don’t stick out as much as Title schools do,” she said. “Title I is basically based on low economic status. It is a poverty percentage based on the district’s poverty level. If they meet that, they can qualify for Title. They can receive money. There are only certain schools in the districts actually receiving Title I funds. Because the pie is the same size, if you cut it they wouldn’t get enough funds to do anything. In the past, we have tried to focus at the lower level, to learn to read and beef that up. But this year, we went district-wide Title I.”
Liberal’s student body is made up of more than 65 percent Hispanic students, but there is no provision for schools with such a high percentage of minorities who have language barrier issues. All students are required to meet the federally-mandated standards regardless of the unique conditions in Liberal.
Receiving 1003(g) isn’t small potatoes, Evans said. LHS could receive up to $2 million from the federal government in an effort to improve the facility’s AYP.
There is a catch.
One of four models must be put in place for the federal government to aid on such a substantial level.
The Turnaround Model states the receiving school must replace the principal and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility. It also states all staff must be released and re-apply for their jobs. No more than 50 percent of the staff can be rehired.
The Restart Model converts a school or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator.
The School Closure Model closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school into a higher achieving school.
The Transformational Model replaces the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformational model.
Although the model choices may sound harsh, Evans said there is some give and take involved in a few areas. Currently, Keith Adams is the principal at LHS.
“They are very structured,” she said. “Some of them give some decisions back to the district for us to make. There is some give and take and some of it it just says, ‘This is what you will do.’”
There will be some very serious meeting of minds throughout USD 480, however, Evans believes what is best for LHS will prevail.
“Basically at this point, we will have to just decide what we feel is best for the students at Liberal High School and the staff there, and make the best decision we can on how to improve,” she said. “If you don’t want to put in one of the models, you can’t get the funds. If you want to participate, you have to implement one of them with fidelity.
“We just found this out last Friday with the high school,” she continued. “So, that isn’t something that you can turn around on Monday and make a recommendation. It is very thought provoking. There will be a lot of putting our heads together, looking at their needs, looking at what we can physically do before we make that recommendation on exactly what we need to do.”
It is up to USD 480 as to which model is implemented, Evans said, and that decision will take some time.
But Liberal had been proactive in addressing the issue according to Kansas Director of Title Program Services Dr. Julie Ford.
“I have to give Liberal and another district credit for taking a proactive approach,” she said. “They have already notified their boards. Some of the other districts aren’t notifying until the list becomes official.”
The list of schools, which includes about 14 high schools that rated in the bottom 5 percent of AYP standards out of 270, won’t be released publicly until Monday, and the snow storm in Washington D.C. has caused delays in getting the lists finalized.
The Obama Administration has pushed for more to be done at the high school level, and that has changed the rating system the state uses to measure the schools.
“Traditionally, we have always had school on improvement.” Ford said. “That list usually comes out in August. But we’ve never rank-ordered them. This is a different way. We looked at percent proficient over three years. This is a different calculation. It helps us identify Tier I and Tier II schools.”
While the list has yet to be released, Ford said most of the high schools are large. But there is no consideration given to those districts that have substantially high minority populations or language barriers.
“There really isn’t,” Ford said. “The purpose when they put No Child Left Behind in in place was to look at all children. There are negatives and positives. If you address your subgroup issues, your school will improve. Those are the students you have and they are expecting them to get to a level of quality performance.”
When it comes to adopting one of the four strategies, Ford said there was not a lot of wiggle room with the federal government.
“They are big on replacing the principal on Turnaround model,” she said. “There is more leeway in the Transformational model if the principal is relatively new. They might give that person a couple of years. Right now, the feds are saying that is the way it has to be done.”