More Tacoma schools added to state list of low performers

New principal next year at Stewart Middle School in attempt to boost test scores

Tacoma News TribuneFebruary 25, 2014 


Two more Tacoma schools have been added to the state's list of

low-performing schools, placing them among the bottom 5 percent of

Washington's high-poverty schools as measured by state test scores.

First Creek Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School, which both

serve kids from the city's East Side, join three other Tacoma schools

with low test scores that make them eligible to apply for federal

funding known as School Improvement Grants (SIG).

Tacoma's other three low-performers - Giaudrone, Jason Lee and Stewart

middle schools - collectively qualified for more than $11 million in

SIG funding in 2010. That initial funding ended with the close of the

school year last spring. Strings attached to the dollars prompted a

series of reforms that produced mixed results. But progress wasn't

strong enough to remove the middle schools from the state list.

Superintendent Carla Santorno said that's because the bottom is a moving target.

"They are making gains," she said. "But they are still within that

(lowest-scoring) band."

While changes at Giaudrone won plaudits from observers from the U.S.

Department of Education, at Stewart reforms floundered in the first

year due to tensions between the school's principal and its teachers.

Teachers union members said those tensions played into the 2011

teachers strike in Tacoma. Despite the appointment of a second

principal and newfound teacher enthusiasm, Stewart had lost valuable

time and was still struggling to make enough improvement as the first

round of SIG funding came to a close.

Stewart's status as a persistently low-performing school now places

new demands on the school district to boost scores. Santorno announced

Tuesday that she will name Zeek Edmond, who led SIG-funded changes at

Giaudrone, as principal at Stewart beginning this fall. Billy Harris,

currently assistant principal at Giaudrone, will replace Edmond as

principal there.

Santorno called Edmond "a good team builder, a good leader and a good

turnaround guy." She's hopeful he can boost achievement at Stewart.

Unlike the last round of SIG reforms, which meant replacing at least

half the staff at Stewart, the new plan will allow existing staff

members to move to other district schools voluntarily.

The school district is still evaluating how to make improvements at

First Creek and Roosevelt.

Santorno said principals and staff members at all the schools named to

the state list have been working hard. But she said federal rules

demand changes across many spectrums of students - including students

living in poverty and special education students. Both groups have

traditionally struggled to boost test scores.

"Measuring is painful, but it tells us what work we have to do," Santorno added.

New SIG funding will come to Washington state at the rate of about $8

million per year for three years, beginning this fall. There are 49

schools on the statewide eligibility list this year. Grant recipients will be

announced in May.


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