By Theresa Harrington
One question that arises as the Mt. Diablo district considers closing Glenbrook Midle School is: what would happen to its School Improvement Grant?
Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, told me today (Thursday) that the district is exploring whether it could continue to receive funding by amending its application for school closure. Previously, she said, she told Board President Gary Eberhart that the district would not be able to receive the funding if the school closed. That would be the case if the district closed the school and didn’t amend its application, she said.
“We’re still trying to get some answers,” Lock said. “There are some different ideas, such as, ‘What if we amend the application?’ So, we’re still looking into it. We still don’t have anything definite.”
The state approved a $1.7 million grant for three years to reform Glenbrook by “transforming” it through new educational initiatives. The district could have chosen the “school closure” reform, but chose not to, in part because the school was making progress.
“Glenbrook Middle School has had two consecutive years of API gains totaling 48 points,” the district’s application stated. “The focused initiatives that were started two years ago, such as PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), Fred Jones (teacher training in classroom management), and analysis of student data will be continued and intensified.”
The district said it also planned to implement new strategies such as:
– more collaboration about instruction across grade levels and departments;
– implementing a “Read 180” program;
– launching a four-week intensive summer program including enrichment electives for students as well as remediation and intervention;
– shifting to Curriculum Associates assessments;
– using Board Math in AIMS (Academic Intervention for Math Success) classes;
– hiring coaches for English language learners, math and data;
– hiring a “turnaround specialist”;
– professional development for staff; and
– summertime collaboration for teachers to work on instructional pacing and common assessments, as well as to plan “experiential” and project-based learning opportunities for students.
The district was to receive $584,002 annually for three years, from 2010-11 through 2012-13. The application included an $80,000 expenditure this year to plan a four-week summer intervention program to be offered in July. It is unclear whether the district would still offer this program if the school closes. If not, the district won’t need to spend $80,000 planning for it. This means the district could be required to return some of its grant money, with interest.
“The applicant will obligate all sub-grant funds by the end date of the sub-grant or re-pay any funding received, but not obligated, as well as any interest earned over $100 on the funds,” the application states.
The district is spending $24,000 on its “turnaround specialist.” It is unclear whether this person is experienced in turning around schools by closing them.
The district assured the state that funds would spent as indicated in its application proposal and would ONLY be used in the school identified in the grant award letter.
The district is unlikely to receive as much money for closing the school as it would to keep it open and implement reforms. The San Francisco school district received $50,000 to close a school, compared to $3.8 to $5.8 million to transform or “turn around” other schools. Similarly, the Oakland district received about $49,000 to close a middle school, compared to $4.4 and $4.6 to transform two other schools.
According to the School Improvement Grant criteria, the district would not be able to receive grant funding if it sends Glenbrook students to Oak Grove Middle School, since Oak Grove’s Academic Performance Index score is lower than Glenbrook’s. (Oak Grove’s API is 646 and Glenbrook’s is 660). However, Glenbrook students could attend the new Flex Academy charter school that is considering opening in the fall.
Here are the grant guidelines for school closure, according to the state Department of Education: “The LEA (local education agency) closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving. These other schools should be within reasonable proximity to the closed school and may include, but are not limited to, charter schools or new schools for which achievement data are not yet available.”
It’s not clear what the state considers “reasonable proximity.” According to Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s recommendation, the district would send 243 students to El Dorado Middle School (3.2 miles from Glenbrook), 52 students to Valley View Middle School (4 miles from Glenbrook) and 189 to Oak Grove (nearly 5.4 miles from Glenbrook).
According to the grant application, the district should be conducting a “mid-year check in” with Glenbrook staff this month to evaluate out how the grant implementation is progressing. The school is scheduled to give a board presentation in May about its progress and outcomes.
In its grant application, dated November 11, 2010, the district wrote that the Glenbrook community had determined “the focus for GMS (Glenbrook Middle School) needs to be on a transformational model focused on providing rigorous instruction, student engagement and experiential learning.” It envisioned its plan would “provide the structure and accountability to make instruction targeted, coherent, and ultimately successful for all GMS students.”
Now that the school year is half over, do you think the district should evaluate whether its School Improvement plan is working before abandoning it?