WB-RC developing plan to get Rose City Elementary off priority school list
Plan forces district to replace Principal Jill Retherford
ROSE CITY — The West Branch-Rose City school district has four years to turn around academic performance at Rose City Elementary, and during the school board’s Aug. 20 meeting the turnaround plan began to take shape.
West Branch-Rose City Superintendent Dan Cwayna said Rose City is listed as a priority school by the Michigan Department of Education.
He said these schools have not performed as well as the state would like for several years in regards to making adequate yearly progress, improving MEAP scores and closing the discrepancy between the top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent of students in the school.
A slideshow presented by WB-RC Curriculum Director Lorri Brunner during the Aug. 20 board meeting said that priority schools are in the bottom 5 percent of Michigan’s Top-To-Bottom list of schools.
Brunner said the district had to select one of four methods approved by the state to turn the school around academically. The four choices were closing the elementary; restarting, which means closing and reopening as a charter school; transformation, which requires the school to replace its principal and follow 11 steps to improve; and turnaround, which is similar to transformation, but also says the school must replace 50 percent of its staff.
WB-RC selected the transformation model, as the district has already implemented several of the requirements, Cwayna said.
Requirements in the transformation model are replacing the principal, using a rigorous evaluation system for teachers and principals based on student data as a factor, identifying and rewarding school leaders who increase student achievement and removing those who do not, providing high-quality, job-embedded professional development, implementing financial incentives or career growth opportunities, using data to implement and identify instructional programs, promoting continuous use of student data to inform and differentiate instruction, creating schedules that increase learning time, providing for family and community engagement, giving the school sufficient operating flexibility and ensuring technical assistance.
The district has to submit its redesign plan to the Michigan Department of Education by Oct. 19.
The issue of requesting a waiver on one or more of the requirements was raised during the meeting. Cwayna said the district can request a waiver, but if it is approved by the state of Michigan, WB-RC could lose all of its federal funds through Title I and Title II.
Cathy Zimmerman, a community member in attendance, said she felt it was not fair that Rose City Elementary Principal Jill Retherford had to bear the brunt of the punishment for the low achievement rate.
“There seems to be something that we can do to fight for her,” she said.
Retherford said a waiver on her job, or any other requirement in the transformation model, would cause a big hit to the school’s budget.
“Any waiver you’re asking about is going to take away $700,000, $800,000,” she said.
School board member Patricia Beasley said Retherford being replaced or moved elsewhere in the district could cause more students to leave Rose City Elementary.
“I can see that causing more kids to leave to go to Surline,” she said.
Cwayna said six students’ parents had said they were interested in their children leaving Rose City for Surline, but added it was mostly out of convenience, not an issue with the school. He said more students leaving Rose City for Surline would most likely make it more difficult to raise test scores at Rose City.
Brunner said the state is giving the school four years to turn around its test scores. The four-year window begins in 2012-13, when the district must approve its plan. In 2013-14, and the following years, it must implement its plan, which includes replacing the principal, Brunner said.
During that period, she said the district has to set aside 20 percent of its Title I funds, or $114,600, for transportation for transferring students; and 10 percent of Rose City’s Title I funds, or approximately $12,000 needs to be set aside for professional development.
Brunner added that any funds not used for transportation can not be rolled into the general fund.
“If we don’t need it for transportation, it goes into professional development,” she said.
Two meetings were held at Rose City Elementary Aug. 16 in regards to the MDE listing the school as a priority school, and students possibly transferring to Surline, a non-priority school.
“We have to offer the parents of those K-4 students the option to go to a non-priority school,” Cwayna said.
He said about 20 parents attended the first meeting, held Aug. 16 at 2 p.m., and 19 were at the second meeting at 6 p.m. the same day.
“We explained the purpose of the meetings, explained the whole priority school procedure and then opened it up to questions anyone might have,” he said.
According to Cwayna, most of the parents’ questions were not about transferring to Surline, but about how the district is trying to turn things around at Rose City Elementary.
“The majority of the people were asking questions about what we’re doing in Rose City to improve our test scores,” he said.
Several meetings and committees will be looking at school reform for Rose City, Cwayna said. Letters were sent to parents during the week of Aug. 5-11 informing parents of the meetings, he said.
Parents of Rose City Elementary students have to decide whether their children will transfer by Aug. 27, Cwayna said.