State accountability rules may force out principals

2014-02-11T19:15:00Z 2014-07-16T14:10:12Z State accountability rules may force out principalsCarmen McCollum, (219) 662-5337

The Indiana Department of Education has hosted school accountability meetings across the state with leaders of schools that earned a D or an F, and how to meet state and federal guidelines.

In 2013, 40 public schools in Lake and Porter counties had poor grades, some with several consecutive years of failure. Every public charter school in Lake County received a D or an F in 2013 except East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy, which earned a C; Discovery Charter School in Porter earned an A.

Most private schools in Lake and Porter counties earned a passing grade except Ambassador Christian Academy, in Gary, and St. Stanislaus School, in East Chicago, which both earned an F in 2013. In Porter County, no private school earned less than a C.

IDOE Assistant Superintendent Teresa Brown, who leads the division of Outreach and School Improvement, has placed schools in two categories — focus and priority. A focus school has received a D for one year. A priority school has received an F for one year or a combination of two D grades, or D and F for two consecutive years.

The state is directing schools to use the turnaround process of school improvement, which means removing any principal in charge of the school for the past three consecutive years.

The School City of Hammond already has notified five principals they will be removed. They are Hammond High School's principal and principals at Hess, Harding, Edison and Irving Elementary schools.

The Gary Community School Corp. has notified four elementary and secondary principals they may be removed from their jobs. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt declined to identify the schools.

Hammond schools Superintendent Walter Watkins said a number of schools in the district were placed in focus and priority categories.

He wrote a letter to administrators, teachers and board members saying, "It is unfortunate that our corporation, with its many successes, is being held accountable by a system that does not take into consideration the complex issues we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Poverty, transiency, high numbers of English-language learners and special needs."

State, federal mandates

Indiana's school accountability law calls for schools in the lowest category of school improvement in its first year to hold a public hearing on the lack of improvement, among other things.

As a school continues to remain in the lowest category for multiple years, additional requirements are placed on the school. A school placed in the lowest category of school improvement for six consecutive years becomes a turnaround academy.

Under previous Indiana education leader Tony Bennett, the state used the school accountability law in 2011 to take over seven schools, including Gary Roosevelt. It appointed private management company EdisonLearning to operate the failing high school.

Two years ago, Indiana was one of 10 states granted a waiver from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, allowing it to set new performance targets to improve student achievement.

The federal waiver requires particular action of focus and priority schools, using data to come up with improvement goals.

Not every school plans to remove principals. A school district may keep a principal in place but is required to sign a letter of assurance to the Indiana Department of Education indicating that principal can lead turnaround work.

Sean Egan, principal at Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, said he met with the charter School Board and explained that one of the options was to remove him because the school was graded a D in 2011, an F in 2012 and a D in 2013.

"They have not indicated they will do that," he said. "They have said they will sign the documentation saying they affirm my professional capacity to be the leader and take us through this process."

Charter School of the Dunes Assistant Principal Connie Smith said the school intends to put more focus on data analysis and critical thinking skills to turn around the two consecutive F's it has received.

Aaron Borowiak, Griffith Public Schools director of curriculum and instruction, said much of the discussion was about using data. "They wanted to make sure we understood how to use the data to turn the school around, and what we had to do as a focus or priority school," he said of Griffith Middle School, which earned a D.

Tom Taylor, Hanover Community School Corp. superintendent, said the middle school principal and staff are reviewing the turnaround principles and working on a Student Achievement Plan for the middle school, which received a D.

"We were marked down for growth, not achievement," he said. "With all of the confusion from the governor's office and the state superintendent's office, we have to react. We are trying to move forward and get our kids to grow in spite of all that. There is a certain stigma attached to the grade. We do not feel our middle school is a D school, but nonetheless, we will move forward."

Portage Assistant Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay, who oversees K through eighth grades, had two elementary schools that earned a D for the first time — Central and Saylor.

She said both schools experienced low growth in English/language arts and are working to provide remediation.

"Saylor has a smaller enrollment at 350 students, and if even one student doesn't pass, it really impacts the school," she said.

Private, parochial schools treated differently

IDOE spokesman Daniel Altman said nonpublic schools don't have to follow the federal requirements because they do not receive Title I money directly. Title I provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.

The two private schools in Lake County with poor grades — Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary and St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago, which both received an F — do not have to replace their principals.

Altman said, however, state law says a private school can't accept new voucher students if it earns a D or an F for two consecutive years.

St. Stanislaus Principal Mary Jane Bartley said she attended the December meeting where IDOE officials talked to public schools that earned poor grades.

"Initially, they didn't want to give us the manual or the materials," she said. "It's a strange position to be in. The state is not providing us any assistance. We're just going to work on our own and do what we know how to do."

Ambassador Principal Vercena Stewart said they have been preparing students for the ISTEP+ test since the fall and she intends to meet with parents and the consultants before discussing the situation further.

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