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
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
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.