Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/Tue/30930FEDERALSCHOOLLABELS.html

Federal funds in jeopardy for 2 local schools
September 30, 2003

By Sarah Garrecht Gassen and Jennifer

Two Southwest Side schools could lose control of federal money next fall - and face government takeover the year after that - if students still don't make enough academic progress or show up for classes.

Hohokam Middle School in TUSD and Mission Manor Elementary in Sunnyside Unified failed for a third straight year to make "adequate yearly progress" as defined by the federal school accountability plan, dubbed No Child Left Behind.

Thirteen other Southern Arizona schools failed to make enough progress the last two years, and they must continue to allow students to transfer out at district expense, among other consequences.

"We are very tied to Mission Manor and very concerned," said Yolanda Herrera, who is active in the surrounding Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. "That's the big black eye for us. Nobody wants to see the government take over our school or take away our money. To lose even one dollar will hurt the neighborhood."

The first round of U.S. designations was released Monday, but only for schools that receive extra federal money under Title 1 and were warned last year that they must make progress.

Title 1 gives more money to schools in low-income, high-stress areas.

The federal system, which went into effect in January, bases the assessment of schools on the number of students taking the standardized AIMS test, AIMS scores and the school's attendance figures.

The federal evaluation is separate from the state accountability system, called Arizona Learns, which will label schools in October as underperforming, performing, highly performing or excelling.

Not enough students at Mission Manor, 600 W. Santa Rosa St., took the AIMS test or passed it to meet the federal rules. Schools must test 95 percent of their students and improve students' test scores by at least 10 percent over the prior year.

Students at Hohokam, 7400 S. Settler Road, made the grade academically, but not enough students go to school every day, pushing the average daily attendance rate below the required 93 percent. About one in 10 Hohokam students is absent each day, said Principal John Michel.

Hohokam and Mission Manor will receive government help this year - such as teacher education, more access to grants or help with developing curriculum - as they try to improve.

If they don't improve, both schools will lose control over how they spend their Title 1 money, beginning next fall.

If the schools do not turn around by 2005, the government could remove administrators and teachers or take over the schools completely.

The two schools are already meeting other federal requirements that they allow their students to transfer to better schools at district expense and offer after-school tutoring.

No students in the Sunnyside Unified School District, home to Mission Manor, took advantage of the transfer opportunity last year.

The Tucson Unified School District had about 30 students go to better schools at district cost last year. Current TUSD transfer figures were unavailable Monday.

The looming specter of government takeover does not scare Michel, who did say losing any federal money would hurt the school "big time."

Hohokam test scores are improving, and six of its students - up from one the previous year - qualified this year to attend University High, the competitive college-track TUSD high school, he said.

The way to improve attendance is to make parents understand that sending their children to schools is vital to their success, Michel said. Family obligations or trips to visit relatives during the school year too often cut into going to class, he said.

"The federal government can sit there and put a label on the school, but there are so many underlying factors we're dealing with," he said. "This is not a solution where we can put holy water on the problem and it will be cleared up."

Hohokam will hold parent meetings this year to engage parents, reach out more through its school community representative and maybe reinstitute attendance incentives for students, he said.

Doris Riegert sends her twin daughters to Hohokam and does not think attendance should count against a school, especially when students are improving in other areas.

"It seems sort of nitpicky," she said. "It's sad, because these kids work so hard and to be brought down by the ones who aren't coming to school isn't fair."

Mission Manor's poor test performance is "not from a lack of teachers or lack of commitment on their part," Herrera said. "It's going to take more of a community movement to help bring that school where it needs to be."

Sunnyside officials worry about how they will operate a program meant to help students in the lower socioeconomic level if they're over-regulated. Mission Manor receives about $150,000 per year from the Title 1 federal subsidy.

"It would be difficult to run a school program with the state coming in and telling you what to do," said Armeda Hernandez, director of No Child Left Behind administration for Sunnyside. "They don't necessarily know what's best for your students and the interactions between your staff."

The deadlines:

Timetable for schools that don't met the federal standards:
Year 1: Schools must submit plan for improvement.
Year 2: Schools must offer parents the choice of transferring their children to another school, at district expense.
Year 3: Schools must provide supplemental services, such as after-school tutoring.
Year 4: Corrective action begins, which may include reducing or diverting a school's federal money to classroom instruction and after-school tutoring.
Year 5: State, acting on behalf of the federal government, may replace school staff and administration.

Also under the standards

Thirteen other Southern Arizona schools haven't met the federal benchmarks for two years running. They are:
Continental Elementary School District: Continental Elementary.
Indian Oasis-Baboquivari Unified School District: Baboquivari Middle.
Nogales Unified School District: A.J. Mitchell Elementary; Wade Carpenter Middle.
Oracle Elementary School District: Mountain Vista School.
Santa Cruz Unified School District: Calabasas Middle.
Sunnyside Unified School District: Chaparral Middle School; Drexel Elementary.
Tucson Unified School District: Anna Lawrence Intermediate; C.E. Rose Elementary; John E. Wright Elementary; Richey Elementary; Roberts Elementary.
Students in these schools, plus those at Hohokam and Mission Manor, are eligible to transfer at district expense. Parents should call principals for information about transfer openings and how to arrange district transportation.

Still lacking

Two Tucson-area schools have failed three years straight to meet federal improvement rules: Hohokam Middle School, TUSD, and Mission Manor
Elementary, Sunnyside Unified.

* To contact reporters: Sarah Garrecht Gassen, 573-4117 or sgassen@azstarnet.com; Jennifer Sterba, 573-4191 or jsterba@azstarnet.com.