June 14, 2008

Three Schools on Federal Watch List

By Jonathan Cribbs, The Beaufort Gazette, S.C.

Jun. 14--Three northern Beaufort County schools will have to offer their students the choice next year to transfer to other schools with better academic performance records because they have not met federal standards.

The three schools -- Whale Branch elementary and middle schools and Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School -- also have to offer supplementary educational services to students and create or revise plans to reform the school. Schools to which students can transfer will be included in a letter and application to parents.

Schools are labeled in need of Title 1 School Improvement if they fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two consecutive years and receive federal Title 1 money, given to schools with a high percentage of lower-income students. AYP is a federal designation based principally on state-standardized test scores -- the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test in South Carolina, for instance. Schools must meet increasingly stringent goals yearly to reach the final federal goal of all students nationwide scoring proficient or advanced on standardized tests by 2014.

Neither Whale Branch Middle nor Whale Branch Elementary has made AYP since 2003. Both are restructuring next year as required by the state, said Roy Stehle, district director of special revenue projects. The restructuring includes the 20 additional days of schools for students who fail a section of PACT or are not making adequate progress on state-mandated improvement plans. Those extra days will cost the district about $2 million, which will be paid mostly with federal and state money, Stehle said.

The district's new focus on science, technology, engineering and math is also part of the restructuring. Whale Branch Elementary fifth-graders will attend Whale Branch Middle for a curriculum based in those subjects, commonly known as STEM.

"It shouldn't cost a lot," Stehle said. "Just the cost of training teachers" and purchasing additional supplies and materials.

James J. Davis Elementary School students also will be permitted to join the program.

The district is interviewing selected teachers and offering them a stipend of several thousand dollars to teach at the Whale Branch schools.

Last year, Shanklin was placed on the list in the middle of the year, and no students chose to transfer, Stehle said. Eight students left Whale Branch Elementary and 29 left Whale Branch Middle, he said.

The restructuring should help Whale Branch Middle students' performance, said outgoing principal Bill Payne.

"We should see an increase in PACT scores," he said. "The main thing is to make sure we have the type of instruction in the classroom that's going to challenge these children. ... It sounds very exciting."Mona Lise Dixon is the incoming principal at Whale Branch Middle. She was an assistant principal at Beaufort High School.

If parents would like to transfer their child to a school of choice, a written request needs to be given to the school principal. Applications must be returned by July 26.


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