Feds give South School better grade

By Kim Lincoln | Mar 11, 2014
Photo by: Kim Lincoln South School third-graders work on reading with student teacher Brenda Svitarsky in Holly Merrow's class. They are, clockwise, Lexie Knowlton, Aiden Smith, Daniel Butler and Emily Oakes.

Rockland — After four years, South School has been taken off a federal school improvement list and moved to a state program that monitors individual student progress.

As a result, the school will lose federal funding, which was more than $30,000 last year, and approximately 12 students, who were allowed to attend another school, will need to return to South School in the fall.

The school had been targeted as a Continuous Improvement Priority School under the federal No Child Left Behind Act since the 2009-2010 school year. It was based on the school's New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, scores, which evaluate literacy and mathematics.

Since the school was identified as a CIPS school, parents had the choice of sending their children to another school in the district that is getting better scores under federal standards.

No Child Left Behind requires that every child in every school make the standard.

"In reality, it isn't that rosy," said South School Principal Lynsey Ward.

Ward said Maine applied for a waiver to enable the state to use its own accountability standards.

This flexibility allows Maine to implement its own statewide plan to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase the quality of instruction, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

Under the state improvement plan, there are four categories for schools: Priority, Focus, Monitor and Achieving. South School has been placed on Monitor status.

"It means they are not really worried about us, just want us to have a plan in place to monitor our improvement," Ward said.

As a result of the new state plan, Maine will cut the percentage of non-proficient students at each school in half over the next six years.

"If we do that — great! If we do not, then we will drop down further," Ward said.

Instead of overall achievement, Ward said, the plan now allows schools to look at individual progress for kids. "Which makes more sense," Ward said.

The school has been finding creative ways to engage students in the areas of literacy and math, said fourth-grade teacher Ferolyn Curtis.

The fourth graders have been participating in an integrated arts project in partnership with the Farnsworth Art Museum. Curtis said it is a student-led project where they get to pick a topic on something they want to learn more about.

This year, students chose local heroes and worked together to brainstorm a list of heroes: firefighter, paramedic, police officer and a veteran. The students then interviewed them at the school and have traveled to their workplace to take photographs. Last year, students studied granite and their project, "Stories of the Land and People," was featured at the Farnsworth.

"We are trying to pull in engaging ways to meet the Common Core standard," Curtis said, adding the project integrates several skills, interviewing, writing (letters, poetry and stories), research and photography.

In math, Curtis said the school is giving more consideration to following the program. In addition, the school has collaborated with the librarian to do math programs on the computer and the librarian has held math workshops to help engage the students.

The school has been using Everyday Math, an online program where students can play games at home to practice skills, and it allows parents to see what they are learning.

"I'm very pleased with what I'm seeing," Curtis said.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email to klincoln@villagesoup.com.

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