Education Opinion

Racing Against the Clock

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — May 10, 2008 4 min read
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In the past, I have always loved the closing days of school. Not because it signaled the end of the session, but because it was a time to assess what had been accomplished and begin planning for the next year. It was like getting ready for New Year’s Eve. In addition to the awards programs, promotional exercises, graduations, end-of-year parties, Teacher’s Appreciation Week, volunteer recognition celebrations, and other special events, we had the test scores to measure our progress.

This year, we are doing all of those things, but the year is ending too quickly. Even this blog is ending too fast. There are so many things that I did not have time to write about that it will be hard to stop telling the stories of McDonogh 42 each week. Writing for Education Week has been a blessing in helping me to sort out what would have been stewing in my mind. I’ve been reacquainted with colleagues from my past and met new friends on-line because of the edweek.org connection. It will soon be a thing of the past also.

The principal is completing evaluations and making recommendations for rehires. He is also interviewing potential staff for next year. His leadership team can complete the many inventories and records requests by May 22, the last day of school. I am working with the Business Manager on next year’s budget and new vendor contracts for custodial services, maintenance services, lawn maintenance, waste management, insurance, child nutrition, transportation, security, retirement and health benefits. That’s when she is not attending technology training for a multitude of new programs.

We still have two huge grant applications to submit in the next few weeks. It did not help to learn that a number of other charter schools are in the same boat. People always think that the major problem with public schools is a lack of money. For us, it’s a lack of planning time to develop a comprehensive strategy and then apply for the money while completing the day-to-day tasks of running the school. I have hope that we’ll be able to finish the applications, but it will mean putting in some long hours starting tonight. I’m determined to do my best to make sure we have the resources to begin some new initiatives for 2008 - 2009.

If we don’t complete at least one of the applications, we can’t fund the summer clinic for rising fourth and eighth grade students. This week we received the first state test reports. As I suspected, the fourth grade scores were not good, but not terrible. About 30% did not pass English Language Arts and Math. This was slightly higher than the RSD averages for the high stakes tests. They will have to attend summer school and retake the LEAP tests at the end of June. I anticipate that about half of the summer testers will pass and qualify for promotion. Of the 60 students in that grade, probably 10 will have to repeat the year. The failure rates were higher in Science (42%) and Social Studies (50%), but these are not high-stakes tests. We did worse than the RSD averages in these subjects. I don’t have the statistics on the initial testers and the repeaters yet, so it’s premature to discuss where we are in our baseline year.

Given the disruptions we had and the difficulty of an inaugural year, I am satisfied that we can begin working in earnest. Had we done the diagnostic testing that I wanted to do at the beginning of the year, I think the staff would have developed a sense of urgency that I did not feel this year. The three fourth grade teachers were in place at the beginning of the year and they stayed focused on their work. All three of the ladies were experienced and willing to take on the extra stress of teaching in a high-stakes grade. Unfortunately, we did not have basic things such as maps, globes, science kits, etc. until well into the second semester. I also don’t think they focused on what the state’s web site offers in the way of model lessons for Science and Social Studies. The content is not that difficult and the students should have performed better. I plan to take a look at their lesson plans to see what was being taught. I am willing to guess that they taught by the texts, not the state’s list of grade level expectations. It’s also possible that the students were further behind than we figured. Without the fall diagnostic evaluations, we’ll never know.

The eighth grade scores were all worse than the RSD school averages, with the exception of Math. I was surprised that the failure rate was only 23% compared to 39% in comparable schools. The students missed a lot of classes in the fall and the math tutoring was almost nonexistent for much of the time. However, they did have the benefit of two math teachers who really knew their stuff. The reports for Science and Social Studies were dismal. It’s been chaotic for the 8th grade students all year for many reasons. I’m not surprised that they learned very little. Just this week, their field day activity was canceled because of rampant disruptive behavior.

We are already planning a summer clinic for the rising fourth and seventh grade students. I think they need more time to catch up on what they have missed in the last few years. We have also planned the LEAP remediation program for students who failed fourth and eighth grade. Too many of them are already repeating the grade, having failed in 2006-07, the rules mandate that they must be assigned to the next grade. I don’t like social promotion; however, what can we do with 8th grade students who are on their way to their 16th birthdays? We also need to create individual plans and start small group tutoring earlier. We have to do a better job of professional development to ensure that the teachers know what to teach and how to teach for success. We need to make sure we have purchased all of the supplies, kits, books, equipment, and materials to begin the school year.

I’m tired and I’d really like to rest. But first, we have to get the money.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.