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The Carroll County Board of Education looked deeply into three schools’ problems and successes at a working board meeting Thursday, April 14. Administrators from the Alternative Learning Center, Cartmell Elementary and Kathryn Winn Primary schools gave presentations of test scores, attendance trends, and other measurable success or failure statistics and what they mean.
Each of the three administrators had 20 minutes to make a power point presentation followed by a 20 minute question and answer session by the board. Each administrator could cite success stories as well as areas they were not pleased with and goals they had set to improve.
Alternative Learning Center
Ed Nelson, principal of the Alternative Learning Center — located behind the baseball field at the high school — serves the middle and high schools using two programs to educate students who have been expelled or have disciplinary and behavior problems.
While charts and graphs can’t tell the whole story, some ALC stats were startling. Of those students who are enrolled in the two programs at ALC, 98 percent receive free and reduced lunches, 95 percent are from broken homes, 93 percent report drug abuse, 84 percent are children of addicts, 59 percent are currently in the court system and 49 percent receive mental health services, according to Nelson’s presentation.
Yet with such serious obstacles to overcome many students in the ALC are doing just that, overcoming and improving. Nelson stated in his presentation that although test score comparisons are difficult because their population changes very often, 82 percent of his students moved from novice to apprentice in reading and 74 percent moved from novice to apprentice in math.
The Alternative Education Placement, managed by Rick Banschbach and the Alternative Learning Center, managed by Mark Willhoite, are two programs administered through the school designed to help students with similar problems. AEP is a short-term placement of not more than 10 days for those students in either the middle or high schools who are having discipline problems giving the student an opportunity to earn credit while serving punishment.
“They don’t have fun there. We don’t want them to have fun. The goal is to change their behavior,” Nelson said. The AEP is meant to be a deterrent for bad behavior in the traditional schools and students there have very strict behavior requirements including no talking, even at lunch. The absolute most students the AEP can handle is 27.
The ALC part of the program is for students who have been expelled by the Board of Education or students who are not being successful in the traditional school setting for various reasons including severe discipline issues, Nelson explained. Each student signs a contract for each nine-week placement stating what success will look like for them and the staff and the student work daily on achieving those goals. The ALC is not punitive and Nelson said they make every effort to catch students up with their class and lower the dropout rate. Nelson reported there have been two dropouts this year. The hard cap for enrollment in the ALC is 30.
Nelson outlined goals for each program, how they monitor success and school improvement plans in his presentation. He explained the mindset of the ALC is often more vocational and they work to improve the employability skills of each student. “We talk about success every day with our students.”
Board member Tom Unker asked Nelson if the majority of his ALC students go back to a regular school setting. Nelson replied that five to eight of the students will stay in the ALC to graduate but most will return to a traditional school.
Nelson further explained that the ALC is similar to the old one-room school house. Each student does class work independently on a computer using a Novel Stars program, so there are many students in one class with one teacher and everyone is working on different subjects at different levels.
“In your school, students come in, sit down at a computer and nobody bothers them?” Unker questioned further.
Nelson explained that many of his students do not function well in the normal chaos of traditional school. “There are too many distractions.” The ALC offers a much more structured setting which Nelson believes his students respond well to.
Additionally the ALC offers a “Why Try” program, administered by Tammy Welch, a counselor/social worker, which “teaches youth that trying hard in life and putting effort into challenges at home, school and with peers is worth the effort.” Students learn how to channel anger, learn coping skills, that life is full of ups and downs and many other life skills.
While discipline and punishment are not the same, they are happening simultaneously at the ALC according to Nelson.
Doug Oak, principal at Cartmell Elementary brought an entourage of teachers and parents with him as he explained the progress on the building renovation and improvements being made in the classrooms to raise test scores and achievement levels.
Cartmell Elementary has been in renovation mode for the entire school year and while the end is in sight, it has been disruptive for the 450 students enrolled. “What you have been able to witness is a real transformation,” Oak said of the building itself.
Oak expects a transformation of sorts when it comes to test scores this year. “Last year content scores weren’t what we expected,” Oak said of the poor scores received. “I predict we will have tremendous gains this year.” Oak believes Cartmell teachers are willing to do whatever is necessary.
“Plan, Do, Study, Act” was the plan laid out by Oak for teachers and students to bring about such improvements. He explained that teachers must deliver content in a variety of manners to meet the learning styles of all students and students need to be more accountable for their learning. Oak’s team of teachers will be helping students learn to think about subjects, not just find the right answers.
Finding the key to success for each student may be difficult, but Oak believes that students who are engaged in after-school activities are successful in school.
Board member Mona Kindoll questioned Oak on how many students are involved in after-school activities. He said about one-fourth are currently enrolled with teacher Jennifer Kemper’s science being extremely successful.
“Do you have good parent involvement?” Unker questioned. Oak replied that it could be better, explaining they had sent out flyers and emails to parents about an upcoming meeting an only one parent, Lisa Nab, attended.
Board member Carolyn Jones asked Nab why she felt parents weren’t involved. Nab said many parents are extremely busy and don’t have the time, but there are parents who just don’t want to be involved.
Oak added that the ideal parents should have a conversation daily with their students about what happened at school, what homework they have and if it’s done and other similar subjects.
Gerda Wise, principal of Kathryn Winn Primary school also brought a group of parents and teachers to the meeting and provided the board with a brightly colored presentation to follow. Wise, a first-year principal, also had previously low test scores as a jumping off point for her presentation and explained how the administration and teachers were involved daily working to improve those scores.
Wise’s presentation used a series of graphs showing where Kindergarten, first and second grades were in the previous year and where they are now in language arts fluency and math proficiency with some very dramatic results. Kindergarteners in the 2009-10 school year had abot 40 percent of students on grade level and this year kindergarten showed the greatest improvement with more than 80 percent of students on grade level. Both first and second-grade levels also had dramatic improvements.
Math proficiency mirrored those same results with all grade levels at Winn having about 40 percent of students working at grade level and by the end of March this year all three levels had increased at least 30 percent with kindergarten increasing 40 percent.
Another welcome statistic presented was there was no gap between the achievements of those students receiving free and reduced lunches and those who didn’t.
Wise explained the staff at Winn is improving instruction and pupil learning by using a number of different ways to not only maximize learning but also to measure it.