The Arkansas Department of Education has identified two groups of schools in the state in need of special attention because of low student academic performance.

The Arkansas Department of Education has identified two groups of schools in the state in need of special attention because of low student academic performance.

The ADE identified 48 schools, including 41 Title I schools, in the lowest 5 percent of student achievement, which were designated as Needs Improvement Priority Schools; and identified 109 Arkansas schools, including 82 Title I schools, in the lowest 10 percent of student achievement, which were designated as Needs Improvement Focus Schools.

Title I is a federal education-funding program for schools that have a high percentage of students living in poverty to help students who are behind academically or are in danger of falling behind.

Priority schools

The criteria for identification of priority schools as set by the U. S. Department of Education included: being among the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state based on proficiency and lack of progress of the “All Students” group; or Title I participating or Title I eligible high schools with graduation rates less than 60 percent over a number of years; or Tier I or Tier II school improvement grant schools implementing a school intervention model.

The ADE identifies Tier I schools as the lowest achieving 5 percent of a state’s Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, Title I secondary schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring with graduation rates below 60 percent over a number of years, and, if a state so chooses, certain Title I eligible and participating elementary schools that are as low achieving as the state’s other Tier I schools.

The ADE identifies Tier II schools as the lowest achieving 5 percent of a state’s secondary schools that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I, Part A funds, secondary schools that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I, Part A funds with graduation rates below 60 percent over a number of years, and, if a state so chooses, certain additional Title I eligible participating and non-participating secondary schools that are as low achieving as the state’s other Tier II schools or that have had a graduation rate below 60 percent over a number of years.

Focus schools

The criteria for identification of focus schools as set by the U.S. Department of Education included identifying schools that had: the largest within-school gaps between the highest-achieving subgroup or subgroups and the lowest-achieving subgroup or subgroups or, at the high school level, the largest within-school gaps in the graduation rate; or a subgroup or subgroups with low achievement or, at the high school level, a low graduation rate; or all Title I participating high schools with a graduation rate less than 60 percent over a number of years that were not identified as priority schools.

Jefferson County schools

There are five schools from the Pine Bluff School District and three from the Dollarway School District on the priority list and one school from the Watson Chapel School District on the focus list.

There are no schools from the White Hall School District on either list.

The ADE hosted a July 19 meeting in Maumelle for superintendents from school districts with priority and/or focus schools to provide them with information about what to do next.

The ADE provided priority school districts a set of seven turnaround principles they must implement to increase student achievement: provide strong leadership; ensure effective teachers; redesign school day, week or year to provide additional time for student learning and teacher collaboration; strengthen school’s instructional program; use data to inform instruction; establish a school environment that improves safety; and engage families and communities.

For focus schools, the ADE assigns a school improvement specialist to the school to provide oversight; the district assigns a locally hired, site-based improvement specialist or an external provider to provide oversight and development of a Targeted Improvement Plan; a district leadership team works with leadership of the focus school to facilitate diagnostic analysis, needs assessment, TIP development and implementation.

Pine Bluff

The Pine Bluff schools on the priority list are Oak Park Elementary, Greenville Elementary, Belair Middle School, Jack Robey Junior High and Pine Bluff High School.

Pine Bluff interim superintendent Linda Watson said that the state will be providing resources to her district to help strengthen student achievement.

“They will give assistance to our priority schools,” Watson said. “They will assign a school improvement specialist to the district to provide technical assistance and support and to monitor priority schools. We will also be given a specialty support team whose members will have diverse areas of expertise to assist us in our efforts. We are going to have to work collaboratively to make sure that we have effective teaching going on in the classroom and that we have our principals visible and working with our teachers and students.”

Dollarway

The Dollarway schools on the priority list include Altheimer-Martin Elementary, Robert F. Morehead Middle School and Dollarway High School.

Dollarway superintendent Frank Anthony stands ready to make the changes needed in the district to improve student achievement.

“We must have an environment that is conducive to student learning,” Anthony said. “We must change the culture and the climate of the schools between 7:45 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon. We must put the right programs in place and structure the school day to support what we are trying to do. That includes discipline and organization.”

The Dollarway district was found to be in violation of state accreditation standards for the 2011-2012 school year, the second consecutive year that a violation was found, after the ADE found several transcript irregularities at Dollarway High School.

This ultimately led to the State Board of Education’s June 11 decision to dissolve the district board of directors and to terminate the employment of former superintendent Bettye Dunn-Wright.

Anthony, who was appointed as superintendent by ADE commissioner Tom Kimbrell in early June, explained what he is doing to ensure that there are no further transcript problems in the school district.

“Once a student has a grade point average of at least 2.75 their transcript must have a seal on it that signifies this,” Anthony said. “There were one or two transcripts that did not have the appropriate seal. In order for the school district to be in compliance these seals are required.”

Anthony said that the solution is the implementation of a checks and balances system.

“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Anthony said. “We are starting with the incoming seniors and working our way through their transcripts to make sure that they are on track to graduate and have the right number of credits. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Someone has to be accountable to me to ensure that these things are taken care of.”

Watson Chapel

In the Watson Chapel School District while no schools are listed as priority, Watson Chapel High School did make the focus school list.

Watson Chapel superintendent Danny Hazelwood said that the district will do what needs to be done to improve student achievement.

“We are really in the planning stages of how to approach this,” Hazelwood said. “We know that we’re in a situation where we are going to be in school improvement status for the high school. We’re going to keep on plugging and find ways to improve instruction and to improve test scores. We’re gathering data at this point.”