Blue Ridge Elementary listed as low-achieving

The school is one of 47 in the state to qualify for federal grant money to fix the problems.

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WALLA WALLA - Blue Ridge Elementary is among 47 schools in the state ranked as persistently low-achieving, qualifying it for federal grant money meant to turn around performance through drastic changes.

On Friday, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released the names of state schools that qualify for $17 million from the U.S. Department of Education through School Improvement grants. Each school could receive between $50,000 and $2 million each year for three years as part of the program.

Walla Walla Public Schools is seeking $379,000 of the eligible grant money to implement its changes, said Linda Boggs, assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum, in a news release.

The School Improvement grants are part of the federal Title I program that provides money to districts and schools with high numbers or high percentages of low-income children. Several factors were used to rank the schools, including reading and math scores over the last three years.

Blue Ridge test scores on reading, writing and math have fluctuated over the years, but the school has continuously scored below other elementary schools in the district.

Blue Ridge will eventually commit to one of four federal intervention models: turnaround, restart, closure or transformation. The models vary from changing school leadership to replacing half of its staff, to closing the school and enrolling students in better performing schools within the district.

Because of recent leadership change and instructional changes already taking shape, Blue Ridge may eventually seek a turnaround or transformation model of intervention.

Another option, the restart, is available primarily to states with charter school laws; Washington state does not currently have such a law.

Schools had until March 5 to apply for a grant. OSPI reports that 41 of the 47 schools applied. Schools will be notified by March 26 of status of their applications.

Schools would have to start implementing one of the four intervention models by the start of the 2010-11 school year, and qualify to renew the grants for two more years.

"We're not just trying to turn around a few schools for a few years," said state Superintendent Randy Dorn in a statement. "We're trying to start a new culture that will last. It will make success for every student possible. The kids of Washington deserve no less than that."

Boggs explained that as part of the initial application process, Blue Ridge will undergo an academic performance review administered by a third party. The results of the review will be used by the Walla Walla School Board to choose and develop the school's required action plan.

But changes have already been taking shape at Blue Ridge, which is under new leadership this school year. Principal Kim Doepker said she and her staff are committed to doing whatever they can to help their students succeed.

Although still in her first year, Doepker has already made plans to implement a dual-language program at Blue Ridge next year. This may qualify as an acceptable transformation model.

"We are already implementing initiatives and instructional practices which will be part of the academic review, including aligned curriculum, instructional best practices, focused professional development and high levels of family and community involvement," Doepker said in a statement. "By going through this review process, we can further refine our plans and receive additional funding to support the academic progress of our students."

On the Net

More information on the school improvement grants and the federal and state requirements is available online at www.k12.wa.us.

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