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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

GMS looks to turn around on its own terms

Saturday, March 31, 2012

With lawmakers at the Indiana Statehouse mulling a proposed "turnaround rule" for public schools not meeting the state's growth requirements, the staff of one Greencastle school has plans to turn things around themselves around before the state has a chance to intervene.

Greencastle Middle School Principal Tamra Walker has been addressing progress at GMS, which has received a "D" rating from the state for five consecutive years for missing its growth targets.

Under the terms of the proposed rule, schools receiving "D" or "F" ratings for five straight years could be subject to state takeover. The bill was considered in committee during the 2012 General Assembly, but did not pass into law. If the law were to pass in the future, however, 76 school districts and 104 schools -- including GMS -- could be subject to state intervention.

"Whether or not this proposal passes, we are not satisfied with a 'D' performance rating," Walker told the Greencastle School Board recently. "We are better than that."

The measuring stick for academic performance rating is average yearly progress on ISTEP scores. The state sets goals for each school to show not only that a sufficient number of students are passing, but also that the school is improving and that more students are passing than in previous years.

In the 2010-2011 school year, GMS had a 76.9 percent passing rate in math and language arts. This missed the mark by 0.6 percent.

"This year, we must improve our overall ISTEP passing rate by at least 14 students in order to reach our target goal," Walker said.

Walker and her staff know, though, that school performance does not simply come down to one week of testing each year, so they have implemented plans to recognize academic achievement and improvement throughout the year.

One example is the monthly grade level attendance challenge (called I-CAN awards), identifying most improved students each quarter, awarding students for demonstrating monthly character traits and rewarding honor roll students.

"Recognition for members of the academic teams and winners of academic contests are also occurring more and more. Our hallway display cases and website showcase this work," Walker said.

The staff is also digging deeper into the numbers on student achievement to develop new plans for instruction.

"We are utilizing achievement data more than ever before to inform our planning and instructional practices," Walker said. "This approach allows us to monitor students' individual progress, celebrate gains and implement helpful supports as needed."

To specifically address the concerns raised by the "D" rating from the state, the school's plan addresses teacher effectiveness, instructional time, early intervention, monitoring of students' progress, connecting with students, student recognition, empowering parents and community support and partnerships.

Walker told the board of extra work teachers and administrators have put in to address the school's needs. Highlights of the work so far include:

* Volunteers are coaching selected students in a 14-week after school program.

* Teachers are providing additional tutoring sessions during class and/or Academic Labs.

* The master schedule for next year is being modified to provide more time for interventions or enrichment.

* New intervention programs for reading and math are being explored.

* Teachers will engage in conferencing with students to review past performance and set spring target goals for math and reading on the NWEA Test. An end-of-the-year celebration will be planned to recognize students for reaching these.

* Staff members conducted two site visits to area Exemplary Schools to bring back additional strategies

"These strategies (and others) from the action plan were shared with parents during recent information sessions and were outlined at the board meeting in March," Walker said.

Assistant Principal Scott Weltz emphasized the hard work being put into improving the school's rating.

"There is no one at our school who believes we are a 'D' school, so we are going to try as hard we can to improve that," Weltz said.

In speaking about the school, Walker exudes confidence, not looking or sounding the part of a "D" principal. In her mind, a GMS turnaround is imminent.

"The time is right. We have the right leadership. We have the right teamwork," Walker said.

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