May 8, 2013

‘A lot of work to do’

School officials react to new accountability system


Morris more focused on students than data

Morris Innovative High School in Dalton received a score of 34.6.

Many Dalton school officials have defended Morris as a creative school for students who can benefit from nontraditional teaching. Principal Jennifer Phinney said she is skeptical of the first year of CCRPI data because “it’s data from a school that doesn’t even exist anymore.”

“I’ll be honest, we’re puzzled over our graduation score (Morris got an achievement score of 20.1 out of a possible 70),” she said. “I need some clarification from the state on why we got the score we did. All of this is new.”

The low numbers might also stem from the school being in flux, Phinney added. Morris has undergone several changes to its educational structure since it opened in 2009 to explore ways to offer alternative teaching. Dalton High School, the city’s more traditional school, garnered a score of 82.4.

“We only had 15 students graduate in 2011 and they graduated under Dalton High,” Phinney said. “We just thought the number was low enough that it wouldn’t be fun to have them graduate at Morris so they went over there. But then we had 24 graduates officially from Morris in 2012. We’ll have 72 students graduate this year.

“That’s growth. These students used to be in front of computers, now they’re more involved in things. We’re adding career pathways to things like entrepreneurism. This school is changing constantly. This is only our fourth year of existence.”

Phinney said she sees value in the data as a “baseline year” and expects the score to improve. Even then, she said her first priority is students — not data.

“Here’s just an example. A student enrolled today (Tuesday) who is a 17-year-old from El Salvador,” she said. “He’s probably not going to graduate from high school on time and that could hurt the score of the school, but I want him in my school. I’ll just have to take that hit.”

Under previous state standards, schools performing poorly were subject to corrective action ranging from state-mandated staff changes to forced closings. Asked what could happen to Morris if its scores don’t improve, Phinney said she didn’t know.

“We’d have to have more than a 2-year sample before they (state officials) would do anything,” she said. “The state hasn’t been clear with us what happens. I don’t think the state has decided what to do with schools who are scoring well below the state average or not showing improvement ... Obviously we know we have improvements to make, but by the next go-around our score will be higher.

“I don’t have a problem with accountability. It’s just that the results are just complicated. I really do believe CCRPI will be a better indicator of what’s going on in schools right now. It’s not an accurate reflection of what’s going on here. I feel like we’ve opened a new school every year since we started Morris. Our mission is to be innovative and we will continue to do that, but perhaps from a more stable platform.”

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