State to intervene at struggling schools

Three area schools are among 21 in the state recommended to enter ‘partnership agreements.’

April 6, 2018
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The Michigan Department of Education announced it will discuss developing agreements with three area schools to raise academic outcomes.

Alger Middle School of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Muskegon Community Education Center of Muskegon Public Schools and William C. Abney Academy Elementary in Grand Rapids are among 21 “struggling schools” the MDE recommends enter into “partnership agreements.”

If a school does not make an agreement by the end of June, accountability actions will be taken, which could mean closure, said William DiSessa, MDE spokesman.

Under the agreements, each local district remains in total control of its schools, with support from MDE and partners. Each agreement includes 18- and 36-month timelines during which schools will be evaluated on the progress toward their outlined goals.

If no significant progress is made, he said there might be “serious consequences,” but this model, created by State Superintendent Brian Whiston, is meant to keep that from happening.

“We’re trying to do this in a collaborative manner where we’re working with the districts, trying to provide support to turn those test scores around and, therefore, get those schools back up to par academically,” DiSessa said

All Michigan schools were scored based on student growth, proficiency, graduation rates, English learner progress, attendance rates, advanced coursework completion, postsecondary enrollment and staffing ratios.

The 21 districts involved in these discussions were identified as one of three types of low-performing schools, as defined by the federal requirements specified in Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA).

Approved by the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 28, this is the first time these identifications have been made using Michigan’s ESSA School Accountability system.

Alger Middle School missed that mark by 2.19 percent, said Teresa Weatherall Neal, GRPS superintendent.

She already has been spending extra time at the school this school year working to improve the student performance, but she always welcomes extra support.

“If there’s something we can learn from the state and the (Kent Intermediate School District), I would love that,” she said.

MDE will provide resources for the districts to utilize in identifying their needs and developing a plan to improve, including needs assessment tools, evidence‐based practices, draft partnership agreements, lists of potential partners and contact information.

Multiple partners, including local board members, the intermediate school district, education organizations and community members, will work to identify plans for support and intervention to improve student outcomes.

Academic outcomes are a primary focus, though other aspects such as health, nutrition, behavior, and social and emotional issues also will be addressed.

Each district will be assigned a liaison from MDE who is responsible for supporting the district in implementation of its agreement.

Many of the listed schools included charter public schools, such as William C. Abney Academy Elementary in Grand Rapids.

Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, said, “The authorizers working with these schools are very aware of their performance challenges and have been actively engaged in accountability and support measures.

“MCCSA and its members look forward to collaborating with the state and its partners to ensure top-quality service to all Michigan children — whether that means school turnaround, transformation or closure.”

This is the third group of districts to be offered partnership agreements, which began with 10 districts last year and still is in progress. Currently, there are 16 partnership districts in Michigan.

While it’s still early in the process to measure outcomes, DiSessa said none of those schools is at risk of closing.

“School closings — that’s something you just don’t want to do unless you have to do it,” he said.

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