Several schools to get extra $$$

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The federal government is giving four Northside schools an average of $1 million each over the next three years. That’s the good part. The not-so-good part is the reason: they are among Minnesota’s lowest performing schools.

Nineteen Minnesota schools will share more than $24 million, according to Minneapolis Public School (MPS) district information. The idea behind the money is to help the schools–Bethune, Hmong International, Lucy Craft Laney and Broadway Arts and Technology–turn around students’ low test scores and graduation rates. Another school, Cityview Performing Arts Magnet, got a waiver until the 2011-12 school year.

And the money isn’t the only new thing on the North Side. Returning students will see new faces in both high school principals’ seats.

The district’s perspective

Eric Molho, MPS director of strategic planning, said that the federal government left it up to the states to identify the lowest performing five percent of schools. “The Minnesota Department of Education went through a number of different iterations on how to identify those schools. They reached out to us and St. Paul. What they wound up with was looking at three years’ worth of data.” The school years were 2006-2007, 2007-2008, and 2008-2009.

Student poverty and high mobility played a role in each schools’ low test results. They all had more kids receiving special education services than the district average; except for Hmong International, the attendance levels were lower than the district average.

Also, again except for Hmong International, the schools had fewer students enrolled for the full year than the district average. Hmong International faces its own challenge, though, because of the students’ low-level English language skills. More of its students receive ELL (English language learners) instruction than the district average.

While district math scores for third graders averaged 68.5 percent and the state scores averaged 82.1 percent, Bethune’s students scored 17.8 percent. (Bethune is a K-5 school; the others are K-8.) Bethune’s fifth graders did worse: where the district average for 5th grade math was 50.3 percent and the state average was 65.5 percent, Bethune’s students got 4.2 percent. Cityview 5th graders scored 9.8 percent, Hmong International students scored 46.2 percent, Lucy Laney students scored 14.3 percent.

The district report compared Lucy Laney’s scores, which ranked last out of 17 Minneapolis K-8 schools, to another Northside K-8, Nellie Stone Johnson (which was not on the failing schools list), because both were fresh-started in 2007 and serve similar student populations. Lucy Craft Laney 3rd graders scored 33.9 in math and 29.9 percent in reading, Nellie Stone Johnson 3rd graders got 68.1 and 50 percent. Fifth graders at Lucy Craft Laney scored 14.3 percent in math, and 26 percent in reading, Nellie Stone Johnson 5th graders scored 41.4 percent and 40 percent.

Bethune will receive $1.2 million, Broadway Arts and Technology (a program that moved to North High) will receive $950,000, Hmong International will receive $1.2 million, and Lucy Craft Laney will receive $1.6 million.

How will they spend the money?

Plans for each school, as to where the grant money will go, are being developed on site. Edison High School in Northeast, for instance–which got the largest grant in the state, $1.9 million–will be hiring a number of different individuals, Molho said.

“One piece of the model requires a School Administrative Manager (SAM) at least for the length of the grant. We want to be able to free up Carla [Steinbach] and the assistant principals so that they have more time to spend in the classroom and facilitate connecting with teachers. A SAM would handle operational issues in the building: things like the physical plant, running the front office, supervising building engineers, and other things not directly related to the instructional core. We know our principals spend too much time on issues not related to teachers and learning. There will also be some additional money we can apply for next year, only available to the selected schools.”

Edison’s plans are still in the works, but they have to have a SAM and add time to the school day. In Edison’s case, he said, “The first trigger was that its graduation rate was below 60 percent.” According to district data, Edison’s graduation rate in 2007 was 51.65 percent; in 2008, 46.53 percent; in 2009, 54.98 percent. Its tenth grade reading scores, based on 2009 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, were 28.2 percent. The district average in reading was 54 percent, while the state average was 74.2 percent.

Edison’s 11th grade math proficiency results were 7 percent; the district average was 28.3 percent and the state average was 41.6 percent.

Molho said that when the state first listed the lowest performing schools, “some schools found that to be very upsetting. People in Northeast and Edison were upset. But as we have moved forward, people began to understand more what the grant was going to look like and what resources came with it.”

High school staff changes

School administrator Birch Jones–who preceded Mike Favor and Ellen Stewart–is returning to his former job as North High principal. Stewart will be an assistant principal at Southwest High School. Latonya Daniels, formerly an assistant principal at Edison, is assuming the Patrick Henry principalship after Corey Harris left the state for another job.

Stan Alleyne, MPS executive director of communications, said that enrollment at North High this year is disappointingly low in the freshman class. While they were hoping for 100 students, the number is in the low 40s so far. However, he added, “We’re committed to the 9th grade class and have told people that we are committed to operating the school this school year, despite the low numbers.”

Alleyne said that in October, the district will be looking at the numbers at all of the schools and might make some staffing decisions. “What that means for all of our sites is that they might receive more teaching positions, or, if there are low numbers, other places might lose some teaching positions.”

Why are the enrollment numbers so low? “People have choices. It’s a challenge we’ve faced district-wide. We’re doing a good job of reaching out, but we need to bring the students back from charters and suburban schools.”