A major effort is under way to enhance the capacity for improved teaching and learning at Broad Acres Elementary School by significantly modifying the school's instructional program, teacher recruitment and training, community outreach and academic support activities.
The initiative will include a stronger emphasis on literacy, an extension of the school day and school week, and the implementation of a highly competitive teacher recruitment process that will offer stipend incentives for additional work and responsibilities in order to develop and retain a high performance team of professional educators.
The unprecedented effort -- patterned on the Maryland Challenge Grant program and the steps taken by the Maryland State Department of Education to address the needs of similar low-performing schools -- provides "a creative and responsive way to offer both students and their families the support they need in fundamental areas such as learning English, mastering basic skills and participating in enriched academic opportunities," said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education yesterday [Thursday, March 29].
"Indeed, the issues presented at Broad Acres transcend concerns about test scores and include challenges related to health and nutrition, mobility, poverty, and language development," Dr. Weast said.
Dr. Kimberly A. Statham, community superintendent for the Northeast Consortium, is directing the initiative. Strategies to be implemented at Broad Acres Elementary School will be accomplished within existing resources allocated to the school.
The strategies include the following:
* Develop an instructional delivery system that includes, at a minimum, daily-sustained reading for a 180-minute block, math for a 60-minute block, and writing across the curricula with feedback. This will include acceleration and remediation components for lower achieving students.
* Explore further reductions in class size, from the current model of 15:1 in kindergarten and 17:1 in Grades 1 and 2 to classes of 15 to 20 students in Grades 3 through 5.
* Prioritize the curriculum with benchmarks and identify its essential elements.
* Improve the alignment of the curricula and periodic assessments with Maryland Learner Outcomes.
* Extend school hours several days each week for students for acceleration, review, and enrichment, in addition to weekend and summer programs.
* Offer the existing staff the opportunity to participate in the initiative, facilitate the transfer of teachers and administrative staff who choose not to remain or who do not meet the skill requirements, and recruit topnotch instructional staff to fill any vacancies.
* Provide teachers with the equivalent of at least 20 additional days of compensated work for activities such as extended day instruction, extended year activities, and staff development.
* Provide mandatory, ongoing, school-based staff development with regular support, coaching, monitoring, and assessment.
* Create adult education programs that support student achievement, and integrate the use of technology in all aspects of the school program.
* Provide parent education classes in English language.
The initiative reflects a collaborative process involving teachers, support staff, parents and administrators from the school and the central office, together with leadership of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the Montgomery County Association of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (MCAASP) and the Montgomery County Council of Supporting Services Employees (MCCSSE).
Plans are under way to involve a broader representation of stakeholders and to gain more community involvement and assistance.
Broad Acres ES serves a highly diverse, largely poor and very mobile community that nonetheless produces a student attendance rate of 94.3 percent.
"Students attend school with hope and excitement that belie the challenges they encounter," said Dr. Weast, who noted that "the school has experienced extremely low performance during the last three years on the state's assessments, with no sustained progress and some scores that have fallen to the lowest levels in years."
Currently, the school has a composite score on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) of 14.7 percent for the 1999-2000 school year, down from the previous year's score of 20.4 percent. Several elementary schools in Maryland with similar enrollment characteristics significantly outperform the school.
This year, 89 percent of the 578 students enrolled participate in the Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS), the highest participation rate in the county (as of March 2001). The majority of the students (63.3 percent) are Hispanic, the highest Hispanic enrollment of any school in the county. The remaining enrollment is identified as African American (19.4 percent), Asian American (16.3 percent), and white (0.7 percent), the lowest in the county. The mobility rate is 38.5 percent, the county's highest, and the percentage of students participating in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program is 21.3 percent, which is among the highest in the county. Nine percent of the students are identified for special education services.
"Such characteristics are not new to this school, nor are they unique in Maryland," Weast said. "However, the continuing effort in our county to raise the bar for student performance and close the gap in student achievement has prompted a new effort to focus on the individual needs of specific schools and proceed with comprehensive improvement plans."
Implementation of the planning and development process for this initiative began last fall. Instructional specialists on the School Performance Support Team (SPST) now are focusing on curricular issues, with a primary emphasis on literacy, in addition to math instruction that emphasizes essential knowledge and skills. The SPST also is working with the teachers and instructional assistants to plan and develop a common method of instructional planning and to implement instructional best practices.