Sat, Feb. 22

Lost Children<br><i>CV Schools tackle problem</i>

This is one of a series of articles on children failing in school.

As a recent story revealed (Lost Children: Kids not making the grade; see Friday, Feb. 22 Bugle) Camp Verde Unified School District has an alarming high number of kids failing. The reports from each principal to the school board at its Feb. 12 meeting do not paint a pretty picture for the small, rural district.

"It's very high," admits School Superintendent Marilyn Semones. "Just from my experience in the business for 30 years, it's an alarming statistic. It's one that has to be addressed. That is the core of the work. Are you successful or not?"

The step in making the numbers public suggests the district's desire to strengthen its weakest link. Semones agrees.

"The school board is 100 percent supportive and demanding of change," she said.

Semones is up front about taking responsibility for the district's failing report card, but points to the importance she places as top administrator on individual teachers as each child's "lifeline." She is encouraged by recent teacher involvement.

"Our teachers are quite concerned and are discussing what are we're going to do," she said. "They feel so much of the struggle. They're working with a renewed sense of enthusiasm I haven't seen before."

She added that the alarming failure rate was a top topic of discussion at the recent Feb. 15 in-service (staff development) between teachers and administrators.

She agrees that new leadership with three new principals and the teachers' willingness to take ownership roles, rather than that of "victim," is the logical step toward turning the failure problem around. "I think we'll see a difference next mid term," she predicts.

School Board President Irene Peoble said she too expects the district to enter an upward spiral toward improvement with positive steps now in place. First and foremost is an alignment to state standards. Peoble said students now have pre and post tests and that the curriculum is aligned to the fairly new state standards and tested as such, which has been "a lot of hard work" for the district.

As more state requirements come down the pike she added that school officials plan to be on top of those requirements. She said in the past not everyone was "necessarily going about things in the same way." She believes educators and the school administrators should now have a better handle on lost children slipping through the cracks.

Semones agrees, but cautions.

"The new curriculum will succeed if it's taught. It's going to take a few years to catch up. The issue of failure rate in the classroom is something we can jump on right now."

Although there are intervention programs at all three schools, there appears to be no hard numbers or specific tracking of failing students to prove the success of any one particular intervention program. Peoble said one of the school board's responsibilities now is to make sure the interventions are in place and that they are working.

Peoble notes that programs like CLIP, the Collaborative Literacy Intervention Program that provides reading help in the first grade, are helpful intervention. "Studies show that if a child is not at reading level by the third grade, it's hard to catch up," she says.

"We're starting to do more team meetings and more grade level and colleague conferencing in an attempt to catch the problem before a child moves on to the next grade."

The school board president stressed, as did several other top school administrators that absenteeism and tardiness continue to contribute to the highest rate of failures or F's.

At the Middle School, Principal Eddie Mosier has a new Positive Referrals' program and the 95 Club rewarding kids for good attendance. Mosier has been with the school district three years, two of which was as assistant principal with a total of 29 years in education. He believes accenting the positive is a good philosophy to adopt and has already proven some success.

"Our overall attendance is up this year. When I first arrived, we had 1,641 negative referrals and no positives. Those are down to roughly 500 negative referrals," he said.

Attendance at the grade school is more dependent on parents, said Peoble. "We're reaching out to the parents," she said. "At the high school, lots of times parents aren't home to see that kids are going," she said.

Although, there are no immediate fixes for attendance, school officials seem to have a new awareness of the issue.

Another intervention that is not often used at the high school, but encouraged said Principal Steve Marshall is the parent-student school-shadowing program. Parents watchdog their children by attending classes with them.

In the recent reports at the elementary school (K-5), Principal Tom Lee reported 20 kindergarteners out of 92 failing. The current grade school population K-5 is 626 pupils. He blames the lack of English in the home as the primary language, especially in Kindergarten, as a major reason for failure. He stated in his report excessive absences is the "number one reason for the majority" of failures.

At the Middle School, Mosier reported 102 or 29.2 percent out of 349 students are failing one or more classes.

High School Principal Marshall stated that 160 students out of 419 overall students were failing in one or more classes. He reported 49 out of 111 or 44 percent in 9th grade; 61 out of 135 or 45 percent in 10th grade; 28 out of 95 or 30 percent in 11th grade; and 22 out of 78 or 28 percent in 12th grade. He also stated that Hispanic groups show higher failure rates than Native Americans. Language arts have the highest rate of failure (22 percent) at the high school level and vocational education (10 percent), the lower failure rate.

Semones says that in spite of the huge number of high school students that are failing one or more classes, graduation numbers are in line. She says it's a false sense of comfort, however, because failing students often switch schools or drop out, making the graduation numbers misleading. She says the district needs to find a way to stop that cycle.

"We do a good job in graduation, but it is because they leave us. We don't want them to leave us. We want them to be successful."

Semones stresses the importance that every student "be thought of as an individual and treated as such." She believes that each student, who is failing, has a difference reason for failure whether it be time, a job, no desire to attend or simply not motivated.

"They need to be reached. Every child is different." She agrees that the student success teams are critical whereas a group of teachers try to see what needs to be done for each individual student. And attention to the individual is up to every adult at the school, she stresses right down to the custodians.

The current reports of failures are for the first semester of 2001 from August through December. Semones suggests a comparison take place at the same time in 2003 to see what's working and what's not.

"We're not seeing success yet. We're identifying that we have a problem. It doesn't matter on tests, it's the day-to-day," Semones concluded.

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