'UNDERPERFORMING' SCHOOLS: Biggest needs are money, parental help
Arizona Daily Star  Thursday, 28 November 2002

 By Jennifer Sterba and Sarah Garrecht Gassen

 Tucson, Arizona                                                                                  
Aaron J. Latham / Staff

Volunteer Lucy Blancas helps Dolores Gastellum, 8,with a worksheet at TUSD's Lawrence Intermediate School. Blancas has a grandson at the school. "He wants me here," she says.

 Money and parental involvement top the wish lists of 33 Tucson schools as they work to improve students' test scores enough to avoid possible state intervention next year.
Having enough time to carry out improvements -before the state's next round of assessmenttesting in the spring - is No. 3 on their lists.
 Schools are under state and federal pressure toimprove their students' academic performance. The Arizona Department of
  Education released labels for every publicly funded school last month and 33 local schools received the lowest tag of "underperforming."
If the same schools are deemed underperforming next year - based on data from the standardized tests taken in the spring - they could face state intervention, such as replacing administrators.
                      The labels are based on a formula that measures performance over three years on
                      standardized tests and graduation rates. The system rewards improvement rather
                      than relying only on the actual test scores.
                      Schools must notify parents of students in the underperforming schools of their
                      status by Friday, hold public follow-up meetings and create detailed plans for
                      Educators acknowledge that they have large strides to make in a short time, and
                      they need help to do it. The Arizona Daily Star asked the "underperforming"
                      schools what they need most.
                      Family participation
                      Schools are responsible for much of a student's academics, but they shouldn't be
                      the only teachers in a child's life, educators said.
                      Parental involvement in education can be everything from reading with a child from
                      early on to asking about homework to making sure the student gets to school on
                      Middle school principal John Michel said Arizona needs to return to the
                      "community school" concept. He said some parents lack the skills needed to help
                      their children learn to read and do math.
                      Michel came out of retirement last year to be principal of Hohokam Middle
                      School in the Tucson Unified School District. Located on the Southwest Side, the
                      school serves students from Tucson and the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham
                      "A lot of these people didn't finish school," Michel said. "They had bad
                      experiences with school."
                      Parents may mistakenly think they have nothing to offer their children because they
                      don't have a high-school diploma or college degree. Teachers need help preparing
                      materials or working with children in the classroom, said Stella Soto, community
                      representative for Lawrence Intermediate School in TUSD.
                      Lawrence Intermediate offers volunteers classes in how to tutor students in reading
                      and math, Soto said.
                      Michel envisions schools staying open into the evenings, offering classes to parents
                      so they become comfortable with both the school and helping their children with
                      Sunnyside Unified School District principal Hans Schot said family volunteers can
                      help give students a more personalized education.
                      His school, Craycroft Elementary School, has 590 students this year and 10
                      parent volunteers. The school had up to 30 students per classroom until the school
                      board voted to hire three more teachers this fall.
                      Now there are about 20 students per classroom, which is better than before, but
                      studies show that classes of 18 students or fewer can make a difference in a child's
                      education, Schot said.
                      That's where parent volunteers can enter the picture.
                      "We would like to get them into the classrooms," Schot said. "Parents can help
                      students with their work, monitor their writing, do projects for teachers or grade
                      Charter school principal Wilma Soroosh agreed.
                      "I believe the No. 1 reason students are not performing to their highest potential is
                      that parents are not as involved," she said. "When a school and the parent are
                      working together, it just creates a stronger environment."
                      Lucy Blancas makes sure her third-grade grandson Oscar Saenz knows education
                      is important. She volunteers at Lawrence and said Oscar asks if she's going to be
                      at school.
                      "He wants me here," Blancas said.
                      Several schools asked for help making sure families send their children to school
                      "We have to make sure children are at school every day, and on time," said Helen
                      Grijalva, principal of Richey K-8 School in TUSD.
                      More money
                      But everything comes with a price. Longer school hours, more qualified teachers
                      and more community classes all require money that cash-strapped school districts
                      say they don't have.
                      Arizona has historically placed near the bottom of studies that calculate
                      per-student spending by states. Educators are asking for more money in the face
                      of a Legislature that must resolve a $500 million state budget deficit.
                      "We don't have the extra human or material resources we need," said Theresa
                      Roybal, principal of Roskruge Elementary School in TUSD. "Funding always
                      seems to be a major determiner."
                      Schools meet community needs outside of education, which adds to the pressure.
                      "There needs to be a recognition of the lack of resources in our communities," said
                      Carmen Campuzano, principal at Rose Elementary School in TUSD. "Job-training
                      programs for parents, parenting classes, domestic-violence issues in the
                      That costs money, and principals have a growing list of things to pay for - including
                      staff development. Campuzano said she'd like to see more of her teachers trained
                      in how second languages are acquired.
                      "People with little or no training on how a language is developed and learned truly
                      do not understand concerns children being immersed in English are going through,"
                      she said. "In the long run, this will be detrimental to learning."
                      Superintendent Robert Dooley said the Ajo School District needs more money to
                      entice teachers to come work in his rural district. Urban schools echo the request.
                      The Downtown Arts Academy, a Tucson charter school, is having its teachers
                      compile their own wish lists so the school can ask local businesses for donations,
                      said Teri Richey, a volunteer parent at the school. She said the academy needs
                      materials and more money for its operating budget.
                      Time is of the essence
                      "I think the main thing we need right now is something that's hard to get - time,"
                      said Mary Thalgott, principal of Davidson Elementary School in TUSD.
                      Underperforming schools have until Jan. 30 to submit improvement plans to the
                      state. But many are scrambling to get those plans submitted to district
                      administrators before the holiday break so paperwork can travel through the
                      proper channels in time.
                      Students take the AIMS test, a major component of the state's labeling system,
                      again in April.
                      The need for more time is connected to the need for better funding, Roybal said.
                      "It's not something that can be done in one year," she said. "Two years would be
                      great. But better resources would allow us to need less time."
                      State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tom Horne has floated the idea of
                      pushing back the date when schools will be labeled as "failing" from next year to
                      the following year. Any change to the time line would require new legislation.
                      * Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or
                      * Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or jsterba@azstarnet.com.


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