Mean Short Summer for Teachers
by Melissa Slager, June 08, 2004, The Grand Rapids Press
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have less power and teachers will put in extra time at 14
low-performing Grand Rapids schools under a district plan for
"Everybody's pride is at stake," said Chief Academic Officer
John Harberts, who crafted the plan, which has the teachers
Most of the targeted schools are on the federal government's
watch list for low scores on MEAP tests and failure to make
"adequate yearly progress" toward improvement -- a key
requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The goal is to meet the law's restructuring mandate, which
requires overhauls at eight of the 14 schools. Other schools
were included because they are in danger of reaching the same
point, Harberts said.
District leaders also are mindful of the pivotal election June
14, when voters will weigh in on
$165 million of building and other improvements.
"The community can feel assured we're doing everything we can,
and they can feel good about their schools," said Harberts.
Superintendent Bert Bleke, Harberts and another administrator
are assuming control of the 14 schools, working with leadership
teams of principals and teachers to improve teaching and
Teachers are responsible for putting the plan into action. Most
must work 24 to 36 additional hours during the 2004-05 school
year for training and planning. Teachers at restructuring
schools also must start the year four days early and take summer
classes. They will be paid for extra hours.
At all but three of the schools, teachers are held to the
mandate, although voluntary agreements will mean similar efforts
at those schools -- Congress, Henry and Jefferson -- that face
lesser sanctions under the No Child act.
Grand Rapids Education Association leaders worked with
administrators to draft the mandate and enlist teachers'
support, what school leaders call an unprecedented move.
"It shows a commitment on the teachers' part, and the
administrators' part ... that they are willing to pitch in and
aid in lifting scores at the buildings," Association President
Alex Chess said.
Only "a handful" of teachers refused the extra work and were
given "involuntarily transfers" to other schools, Harberts said.
Michelle Williams signed up for summer courses and does not
mourn the loss of days on the beach.
"Some of the goals that have come out of this No Child Left
Behind are very good and noble," said Williams, a fifth-grade
teacher at Hall Elementary. The act aims, in part, to close
achievement gaps among poor and minority students.
Many reforms are in place at Hall, which has seen reading scores
improve, Williams said. But the new plan will provide more
individualized and school-based training, she said.
A $45,000 state grant will pay for the extra teacher hours at
the eight restructuring schools, while other costs of the plan
will be covered by Title I and district funds.
Turning authority over to district officials diminishes the
power of principals, a key to meeting the government's
Roberto Garcia, principal at Buchanan Elementary, a
restructuring school, said he does not mind the added scrutiny.
"We'll have the tools and support now of the district to do more
(to improve). Losing control in that way is not bad," he said.
Other local schools required to restructure under the No Child
act include Parkview and Rogers Lane elementary schools, both in
Wyoming, and West Ottawa's Pine Creek Elementary.
Pine Creek's principal is being removed to meet the sanction,
while Wyoming's approach puts schools under the authority of
"governance boards," made up of local, county and state
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