3 Elkhart schools added to priority list status

Elkhart school board members listen to principals of Beardsley, Mary Beck and Hawthorne elementary schools, who each received failing grades from the state Department of Education, as they present their strategies for improving student performance.

ELKHART — Three elementary schools at Elkhart Community Schools are hashing out plans to improve student performance at their schools after poor state test scores.

The principals at Beardsley, Mary Beck and Hawthorne elementary schools each presented an update on strategies to improve student performance and achieve higher ratings in the future during a public hearing at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Beardsley, Mary Beck and Hawthorne each received F’s when the Indiana Department of Education released its 2017-18 accountability grades.

Because of this, the schools have been added to the priority school status list, requiring them to have a public hearing.

Brad Sheppard, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the district is conducting a comprehensive needs-assessment plan. He said the district is working with an outside agency to find the root causes of the low scores.

“The goal is, by the end of that assessment we know what some of the problems are that caused the schools to reach that failing grade so, from the results of that comprehensive needs assessment, the schools are then able to modify or actually rewrite the school improvement plans that they have worked on for this school year,” he said.

Each of the schools was given $50,000 in state grants to implement new programs and improve student performances.

Work for the comprehensive needs assessment should be completed in the middle of May, and the plan is to have the school improvement plan done by the end of August, Sheppard said.

Addressing the school board first for the public hearing portion of the meeting was Beardsley Elementary principal Val Priller. Beardsley previously received a D in 2016 and a C in 2017.

Each school is undergoing cultural audits and tracking student-by-student data to help with the school improvement plan.

“We’re also gathering all stakeholders’ opinions, thoughts and concerns, and we do that through a survey,” Priller said.

This year the state is rolling out a new assessment called ILEARN. Based on last year’s performance on ISTEP, Beardsley has set its ILEARN goals at 50 percent passing in English/language arts and 47 percent passing in math on the new ILEARN assessment, Priller said.

“We aren’t sure yet how last year’s ISTEP scores will convert to ILEARN in order to see how many students grew and at what levels,” she said.

For that reason, Priller said, school officials are tracking Northwest Evaluation Association growth closely and hoping that 85 percent of students show high growth on the end-of-the-year assessment.

“Because attendance is factored into the overall school grade, we are also keeping a close watch on our attendance levels,” she said.

Mary Beck Elementary is in its second year of implementation of a school improvement grant from the state, Principal Tracey Kizyma said.

She said last year school officials primarily focused on building a shared mindset and worked on improving the culture and climate of the building.

Three years ago, Kizyma said, there were over 400 referrals and over 100 suspensions at Mary Beck. Last year, the school was able to cut that down to about 100 referrals and under 40 suspensions. Right now, the school is only at 14 suspensions, she said.

“We realize that we need to educate the whole child to meet their needs and we worked really hard at changing the climate of that building to keep students in the classrooms –they need to be in there in order to learn,” she said.

This year, Kizyma said, the school set a goal of 30 percent passing the English/language arts portion of ILEARN, which would be a 12 percent increase from last year’s ISTEP results.

Eric Chandler also stressed the importance of improving the culture of the building at Hawthorne Elementary. As part of the effort, he implemented his own culture audit, he said.

“Before school started I met with every single teacher to find out what their experience was like the previous year and what they’d like to see in a leader,” said Chandler, a first-year principal at Hawthorne.

Each principal has said the schools are rewarding positive behavior, which has had a positive impact on student performance.

At Hawthorne, Chandler said the school has implemented the PRIDE (persistence, respectfulness, initiative, dependability and efficiency) initiative to improve behavior management and school pride.

The school is also trying to add a parent-teacher organization and parent university meetings once a month and start a professional “learning community” at the school.

Last year, Chandler said, the school received a 53 percent passing rate across the board for ISTEP and this year the goal is 65 percent for ILEARN.

School board members expressed optimism in the principals’ improvement plans and commended them for their work.

“I think you guys are going in the right direction,” board member Rodney Dale told the principals. “Just try to remain positive and keep up the good work. The demographic you guys are working with is a little tougher and, as a community, we have to contribute because these kids face different things than other students throughout the district.”

Board member Babette Boling offered a similar sentiment.

“I just want to be encouraging to all three (principals),” she said. “I think you’re all doing a great job with your population and with the different things you’ve been up against.”

During the public comment session, Robert Wood, director of elementary instruction, said the failing grades don’t reflect the students’ overall learning.

“I think putting a level F on these schools is totally inappropriate,” he said. “It’s like you going to your doctor and your doctor telling you that your blood pressure is 120/80 … does that really tell you how you’re doing health-wise? There’s a lot of things that could be going on with your body that blood pressure doesn’t reflect and these scores do not reflect how much effort is going on to help these young people.”

“There is no F,” he said. “Everyone’s learning something, nobody is failing completely.”

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