Cassopolis school shocked by placement on reform listPublished 10:29pm Monday, August 23, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS — It’s been a week of sleepless nights for Hiawatha Francisco.
The seventh through ninth grade principal at Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School said he was shocked Aug. 16 when the district was notified by the Michigan Department of Education that the Cassopolis school had been placed on the list of the 92 persistently lowest-achieving schools in the state.
These schools will have 90 days to submit a turnaround plan to the state, using one of four federally-required school improvement models. If the plan is rejected, the school could end up under state control in a statewide school reform district, according to a press release from the Michigan Department of Education.
“We were all upset,” Francisco said of the administration’s reaction to the news. “I’m pulling my hair out. We don’t know how this happened.”
Superintendent Greg Weatherspoon said the district was “caught off guard.”
“There was no forewarning,” he said. “We’d never been in any type of reform action.”
Weatherspoon, Francisco and a team of teachers, board members and administrators are going to meet with Department of Education officials in Lansing today to find out exactly how they ended up on the list and how they can get off.
Weatherspoon said his communication with state officials over the phone have led to very few answers to exactly what data was used to evaluate the schools. For example, the district is unsure if the state credited the school with a 95 percent graduation rate for traditional students or a 47.5 percent graduation rate that takes into account alternative education and adult education students as well.
“We know we are not perfect and we’re an improving school,” Weatherspoon said. “But we are not an underachieving school by any means. Our ACT and MEAP scores are improving and we meet AYP (adequate yearly progress).”
District administrators now have to worry about possible negative perceptions of the school as well.
“It sends out a negative message,” Francisco said. “We’ve had so many positives. Test scores are up. We have a new school coming, a new football coach and some new teachers coming and then to have this happen.”
The high school has seen an increase in ACT scores each of the past three years, increasing the average overall score from 17.25 in 2006-07 to 18.37 this past year. The school received a “C” on the 2009-10 report card from the state and met AYP.
Also on the persistently lowest-achieving schools list is Benton Harbor High School.