A look at the elementary schools whose students are promoted to one of the worst performing middle and high schools in the state and what they are doing to change the pattern.
Just inside the entrance of Britton Elementary School, a baby bison looks up to his full-grown brother. Both are decorated with the rainbow-colored handprints of about 350 students.
Principal Kimberly Zachery purchased the statues this year to celebrate her school’s mascot — the baby bison.
“Centennial is my school, too,” Zachery said. “I always have said we need to make sure we’re ready for high school.”
It wasn’t until this year, Zachery said, that she learned there were serious issues at Oklahoma Centennial Middle High School.
“I thought things were going fine here and the kids who I was sending over there were good kids,” she said. “These are my babies. I’ve seen these children born.”
But Centennial will be on a plan for improvement next year as the school works to improve test scores that in 2009-10 school year were the worst in the state of any regular-academic school.
The federal government is providing $11 million to help Oklahoma City Public Schools turn around the academics at Centennial, and next year the school will be under new leadership with a principal coming from Texas.
Horace Mann and Western Village send few students to Centennial for middle school.
“That’s been a trend since before Centennial existed,” said George Kimball, Oklahoma City Public Schools, chief information officer. “That holds true across the district.”
Horace Mann had nine students living in its attendance zone who attended Centennial this school year out of a fifth-grade class of about 30 students.
Principal Judy Jones said a majority of her students enroll in Classen School of Advanced Studies, Independence Charter Middle School or Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School. Two of those schools have admissions standards and students must apply and show high academic performance to be admitted.
“We’ve always had a working relationship with Centennial, but the majority of our students, due to their high performance academically, elect to go to schools with high academic challenges,” Jones said. Academic slide
Because of changes in testing it’s hard to compare how students perform in fifth-grade to how they perform in middle school.
Deputy Superintendent Sandra Park said they are completely different tests.
“We accept some regression at transitional years, but do not accept great decline in performance,” Park said.
“When we look at student’s reading ability or math performance you probably shouldn’t see a huge gap.”
Going back to the 2007-08 school year, when testing remained the same for two-consecutive years, some loose comparisons can be made.
Approximately 80 percent of fifth-graders at the three schools that send the most students to Centennial were performing at the fifth-grade level in reading and math.
A year later, 42 percent of the sixth-grade students at Centennial scored in the lowest bracket “unsatisfactory” on the state reading exam, while 46 percent scored unsatisfactory in math.
At any of the five elementary schools that feed into Centennial, no more than 5 percent of students score unsatisfactory in reading or math in 2007-08.
Centennial also has a high amount of turnover among students, roughly 60 percent of the student body changes within the year, making the comparison of grades even more difficult.
Across the district a number of changes are being implemented Aug. 1 to help improve academics.
All schools, including those in the Centennial feeder-pattern, will be on a new academic calendar that shortens summer and instead gives students more frequent two-week breaks.
That change should help students retain knowledge during vacations, said Gloria Anderson, principal of North Highland Elementary.
“That continuous learning calendar will provide extra time, extra breaks, for students who have fallen behind to catch up,” Anderson said. “We will use the first three days of breaks for remediation.”
Every elementary school in the Centennial feeder zone, with the exception of Western Village, will have sixth-grade classes when school resumes in August. Students from Western Village will attend Britton for sixth-grade.
Zachery said she is thrilled that staring next school year she’ll get to keep her baby Bisons for another year before sending them on to middle school.
“If I had my choice, I’d have them until eighth-grade,” Zachery said.
Kimball said the switch to having sixth-grade students in elementary schools has been intended since MAPS for Kids was passed in 2001. The plan calls for most middle schools to become part of high schools.
“When that happens, we really anticipate that many more of those feeder areas will start to stay at their elementary school for another year. But then who knows. It’s possible we’ll see the same pattern in seventh-grade,” Kimball said.
Britton over the years has been a remarkably stable school where students excel academically, not only compared to other elementary schools in the district but with the state average.
With 100 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches and 30 percent of students classified as English language learners, the school had 81 percent of fifth-graders score proficient or advanced on the spring 2010 state reading exam and 89 percent score proficient or advanced on the math exam.
The arts integrated school has a kiln and a full-time art teacher.
Zachery, who has been at Britton since 2000, has invented the superhero “Zero Hero” (usually her son dressed in costume) who rewards classes for various good deeds, and she has recruited her own ace-team of educators.
But she worries about her baby Bisons growing up to be big Bisons.
“I’m not having a graduation ceremony anymore,” Zachery said. “I’ve bought a bridge and we’re going to have a bridging ceremony.”
That way her students can always come back and visit.
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