After five years of being in danger of state intervention, West Side Leadership Academy has climbed to a C from an F for the 2014-15 school year.
The Indiana State Board of Education met Tuesday morning and unanimously approved school grades. Schools had known their grades since November, but grades are not deemed official until the state BOE formally approves them.
Educators across the state were pleased last week when Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation that would hold schools harmless for their A-F accountability grade for the 2014-15 school year, as Indiana schools transitioned to more rigorous college- and career-ready standards and a more rigorous ISTEP-Plus assessment.
School grades are based largely on the state-mandated ISTEP-Plus test, which also is used in part to evaluate teachers. The test was aligned last year with new Indiana State Academic Standards. Teachers complained they had little time to adjust curriculum to the new standards before the test was administered last spring.
Area superintendents also said there were problems with the technology and length of the test. Formatting was changed due to technology-enhanced items, creating glitches, and the test, initially 12 hours long, was reduced only at the last minute after complaints from educators statewide.
While West Side is no longer in danger of state intervention, two local schools are among six that received an F for five consecutive years. A public hearing, as required by state law, will be held in the community to determine the future direction of those schools.
The two schools are Joseph Block Middle School in the School City of East Chicago and Beveridge Elementary School in the Gary Community School Corp.
State intervention can range from the mildest form, which calls for the school to revise its improvement plan, to the most severe, which calls for the state taking over the school and assigning a company to manage it.
Five years ago, the state took over Gary Roosevelt, appointing Tennessee-based EdisonLearning as the operator, and that arrangement continues.
East Chicago's Block middle has faced a number of challenges, said Dr. Youssef “Dr. Joe” Yomtoob, who became superintendent of the School City of East Chicago 18 months ago. However, he said, the climate at the school has changed dramatically since Dee-Etta Wright became principal.
“With a new leader in place in that building, the changes in the last five months have been like day and night,” Yomtoob said. “The kids are well-behaved. They are actively involved in their lessons. Tardies and suspensions have gone down.”
Yomtoob praised Wright and Assistant Principal Elsie Quiroga for their policy of walking the halls on a regular basis, and teachers for dedicating themselves to curriculum and school improvement.
Block currently has between 300 and 320 students in seventh and eighth grades, he said.
“We put the sixth grades back at their elementary schools. Students who were in fifth grade last year now continue at the elementary schools,” Yomtoob said. “That may have had a positive impact.”
The superintendent said the changes will take time to be reflected in the state’s A-F system of grading.
“I’m very, very proud of Block,” Yomtoob said. “I’m very optimistic that we can change that F to an A.”
West Side gains
Cheryl Pruitt, superintendent of the Gary Community School Corp., said West Side Leadership Academy had gains because it took a holistic approach with students.
“Mr. Terrance Little (West Side’s principal) who leads the new awesome administrative team, launched a program called SILS (Student Information Logging System). The purpose is to gather and submit real-time information about each student," she said.
"Everything from social and/or emotional challenges to academic data is documented. Based on a student’s unique needs, they’re assigned to appropriate support staff as needed."
Pruitt said West Side staff are listening to students and parents, who are on board as school partners. Pruitt said there is a better relationship among officers, students and the community. Last year, West Side had a significant decrease in student altercations and suspensions, and that's the expectation this year, she said.
Pruitt said West Side is using the restorative justice method, where administrators, school resource officers and school safety officers use proactive strategies with students.
“There was a 40 percent increase in the number of ninth- and 10th-grade students passing mathematics on the End-of-Course Assessment," she said. "They’ve earned a B in the category of College and Career Readiness and their graduation rate is 86.6 percent. The state average is 82.8 percent.
“Data-driven professional development for the instructors ensures that rigor, relevance and relationship are implemented. They teach math in math classes and apply math in science courses and teach literacy across all content areas. Courses are integrated so students can see the relationship and the relevance,” she said.
Pruitt said West Side students can also take Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses. She said eligible college-bound seniors also can graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree if they stay on track with the Early College program at Ivy Tech Community College. They also take courses at DeVry and Calumet College, and the courses are offered free to students.
Grade changes elsewhere
While educators were worried about the ISTEP-Plus scores and school grades they were based on, some schools improved while others remained the same or dropped.
Of the 19 schools in the School City of Hammond where students in grades three through eight took the ISTEP-Plus exam, four schools earned an A, two schools earned a B, eight earned a C and five earned a D.
In the School City of Hobart, every school earned an A except Hobart Middle School, which earned a C. River Forest Middle School earned an A while the high school scored a D. All five schools in the School Town of Munster earned an A.
Almost every school in Porter County earned an A or a B except for Boone Grove Elementary in the Porter Township School Corp., which earned a C. All three schools in Hebron earned a B.
Discovery Charter School in Porter earned an A. Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, Gary Lighthouse Charter, 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Aspire Charter Academy in Gary and East Chicago Lighthouse Charter all earned a D.
East Chicago Urban Enterprise School earned an A, and Hammond Academy of Science and Technology earned a B.
Charter School of the Dunes earned an F. That charter school is authorized by Calumet College of St. Joseph after it lost its charter though the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University.