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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoReforms Mean Short Summer for Teachers
by Melissa Slager, June 08, 2004, The Grand Rapids Press
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Principals will have less power and teachers will put in extra time at 14 low-performing Grand Rapids schools under a district plan for boosting achievement.

"Everybody's pride is at stake," said Chief Academic Officer John Harberts, who crafted the plan, which has the teachers union's support.

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 learning.

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 restructuring mandate.

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 officials.


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