Half of Tacoma’s 10 middle schools are now on a list of schools with some of the lowest state test scores in Washington.
State education officials last year named Hunt, Giaudrone, Jason Lee and Stewart middle schools to the list – a distinction that also qualified the schools for $11 million in federal grants designed to help raise student achievement over three years.
On Wednesday, Tacoma Public Schools announced that Baker Middle School in Tacoma’s South End is now also on the list, based on scores from state tests administered last spring. Reading and math scores – and a lack of improvement over three years – landed Baker on the list, a school district announcement stated.
Baker had 584 students last May, according to state figures.
Like the four schools named last year, Baker has plenty of students who grow up in poverty. At the close of the last school year, it listed nearly 70 percent of its students as eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches – a widely used national barometer of student poverty. Years of education research links poverty and low test scores.
The new listing means Tacoma Public Schools can once again apply for federal School Improvement Grants. But this year’s pot of grant money allocated to Washington is smaller – $7 million as opposed to nearly $50 million – and the grants will be awarded for one year instead of three.
Last year, 41 schools from 21 districts applied. Tacoma’s share of the grant money was one of the largest in the state.
But not every district with eligible schools applied. Notably, the Franklin Pierce School District, which also had a middle school on last year’s list, chose to take a pass on the grant money. Officials there said it came with too many strings attached.
Among the conditions: grant recipients must choose to reform low-performing schools using one of four federal models that call for such things as closure and new staffing.
Tacoma chose to temporarily close Hunt Middle School and reassigned students to higher-performing schools. At both Giaudrone and Stewart, the district brought in new principals and largely new faculty. At Jason Lee, Principal Jon Kellett was allowed to remain in place to continue reforms already begun.
A new Baker Middle School is under construction next door to the current building in the Fern Hill neighborhood. It’s scheduled to open a year from now, so it’s unlikely the district will choose to close Baker.
Tacoma Superintendent Art Jarvis said in a statement Wednesday that the district will most likely choose one of two makeover models: transformation or turnaround.
Under the turnaround model, the district could replace Baker Principal Steve Holmes and at least half the staff. That’s what the district did this year at both Stewart and Giaudrone. (Holmes had no comment Wednesday.)
Under the transformation model, the district must reform instruction and boost teacher effectiveness, reward teachers based on student performance, increase community involvement and extend learning time. That’s the model being tried at Jason Lee.
The district intends to submit a letter of interest to the state by Friday to move forward in the grant process. That letter does not commit Tacoma to participation, nor does it finalize the selection of a reform model, the district statement notes.
The school board has until March 5 to decide which model to pursue for Baker. That’s when grant applications are due to the state.
Baker seventh-grader Carolynn Marien, 13, said she and other students learned about her school’s status Tuesday. She said she’s not sure how she feels about the process.
All she knows is that “they called us a failing school.”
Another seventh-grader said she has mixed feelings about what changes might lie ahead. She thinks each student and teacher should be tested and judged independently, rather than as part of an entire school.
“I like my principal and teachers,” she said.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com