Improvement for D-, F-rated schools around the corner, officials hope

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 7, 2013 

The Beaufort County School District will try to help six schools that received poor marks on federal accountability report cards with a tack it might take with a student who brings home bad grades.

By administering a little extra tutoring.

The district has assembled six-member teams that will pay three-day visits to each of the schools that received a D or F rating on accountability standards in the past academic year, according to chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads.

The teams of school and district leaders, will observe teachers and classrooms and analyze testing data to create plans to improve the schools' scores, Rhodes said.

"Our principals and teachers are not overjoyed that they didn't make standards," Rhoads said, "but now we're going to roll up our sleeves and see what we can do better."

Four of the schools -- Broad River Elementary, H.E. McCracken Middle, Hilton Head Island Middle and Whale Branch Elementary -- received D ratings. The other two schools -- Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary and Whale Branch Middle -- received F's on their progress toward federal accountability standards.

The grades are determined on a two-part measure of students' absolute performances and their progress toward the standards, Rhoads said.

No visits had been completed as of Friday, but they are set to start this month and run through October, superintendent Jeffrey Moss said. The teams and district officials will continue to check in with the schools until they complete follow-up visits in February.

"The teams are another added layer to use in these schools to support them," Moss said. "This part is the 'now what?' "

Hilton Head Island Middle School principal Greg Stickel said he is excited for the team's visit in October and has thought of several topics to discuss -- among them, the pace of the school's curriculum and methods of assessing student performance.

Stickel also said he knows the school -- down from a B in the 2012 ratings -- could improve its overall score by pulling up the performance of its demographic subgroups, which receive their own ratings.

"The 'D' is the 'D,' and we can't change it, but we also can't run from it," he said. "We know that if don't make changes then we can't expect that 'D' to change, so we realize this is an opportunity for us to focus on our subgroups."

Whale Branch Elementary also welcomes the extra set of eyes and feedback, principal Anita Lynn Singleton said. The school has received consecutive D's, and Singleton says faculty turnover might be one reason.

Singleton she and her staff have been collaborating with parents and other schools to learn from each other.

One of the schools she applauds is St. Helena Elementary, which improved from an F in 2012 to an A this year. The district used almost the same assessment approach at St. Helena last year, and Rhoads said he hopes it will have the same success this year.

S.C. Superintendent Mick Zais heard about the district's plan when he visited St. Helena on Thursday and said he thinks it sounded like a good idea.

"It is important to understand that what works in one school won't work in another," Zais said. "So it is good to hear they are going into the classrooms and are cognizant that there are many different styles of teaching for all students to learn."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

S.C. superintendent makes return visit to St. Helena Elementary to tout its turnaround, September 5, 2013 SC schools chief talks reading, parental involvement with St. Helena staff, October 17, 2012 Beaufort County students continue gains on standarized tests, August 1, 2013

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