May 8, 2013

‘A lot of work to do’

School officials react to new accountability system

Several local schools are lagging behind the rest of the state, according to the new College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), including Coahulla Creek High School, whose principal announced his resignation on Monday, the day before the first year’s numbers were made public.

The CCRPI evaluates schools on a 100-point scale as part of an accountability system that state educators used for the first time in 2012. Coahulla Creek’s score was 53.6; the high school average in the state was 72.6. School system officials said Phillip Brown’s resignation, effective at the end of the school year, was planned for some time and not related to the release of the scores.

Whitfield superintendent: ‘very disappointing’

The state average for elementary schools was 83.4, while the middle school average was 81.4 and the high school average was 72.6. Whitfield County Schools averages were 72.3 for elementary schools, 75.8 for middle schools and 67.1 for high schools. “Very disappointing” numbers, Superintendent Judy Gilreath said.

“We knew we had a lot of work to do before the scores were released,” she said. “Any way you cut it, we know we have a lot of work to do still.”

Gilreath said school administrators were “already laying groundwork” to improve test scores shortly after she replaced Danny Hayes as superintendent on March 15. That included shifting staff to focus more on core content like math and reading, not renewing a contract with the Kentucky-based Schlechty Center — an educational think tank focused on providing teachers with different classroom techniques — and emphasizing math in elementary schools.

“There will be a system-wide push on core content,” Gilreath said. “We’re going to focus on professional development and build on content. You never like to not score well, even though we are not in a competition by any means. I just want our kids to do well.”

To do well, the content that teachers provide to students must be designed around CCRPI benchmarks, Gilreath said.

“I think sometimes we design engaging work for kids, but the work is not in the right areas,” she said. “If you design good and engaging work — then go look at objectives and standards after — you’re putting the cart before the horse. Maybe sometimes we design good content, but it’s not in the right area. We’re going to concentrate on the right areas.”

Changes in addition to Brown’s resignation could come to Coahulla Creek, Gilreath said, although those changes could depend upon the specific details of the CCRPI. The $43 million school opened in 2011 and was criticized by some locals for its cost.

Brown said he’s convinced the high school’s low score is “an anomaly” and doesn’t accurately reflect the school’s aim to be relative in a digital age. Gilreath said Brown’s resignation is unrelated to the CCRPI score.

“This is just first-year data,” Brown said. “This is a year of data and not a data trend. Two different things. Look, I know everything I say will sound like an excuse. I know that. But the test scores will go up. When you look at this school three or four years from now you’ll see different data and improvement. We are establishing a new high school. I don’t want to lessen the work our teachers are doing here, work that speaks for itself.”

The next CCRPI report for current year data is expected to be released in the fall.

Brown said one thing that could help Coahulla Creek’s next score is the recent addition of Advanced Placement classes and a growing student body.

Whether the data is accurate, Coahulla Creek is going to get an “academic” push, Gilreath said. What that entails is unclear until school officials have time to dig into the details of the CCRPI, several school officials said.

“Well, of course it’s a new facility and it has had some growing pains,” Gilreath said. “It always takes awhile to get things established, but we’re looking at Coahulla Creek to make it more focused on (CCRPI) goals. I’m very disappointed with the score it got.”

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