Schools in Walla Walla, Prescott not making the grade

Blue Ridge Elementary and Prescott Junior Senior High both are eligible for school improvement grants because of missing state and federal benchmarks.

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WALLA WALLA - Blue Ridge Elementary School and Prescott Junior Senior High School are among 50 schools in the state with performance problems that make them eligible to apply for School Improvement Grants, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction announced Thursday.

Qualifying schools, which are chosen annually, can seek between $50,000 to $2 million a year over three years, depending on federal funding availability. Washington is to receive about $7.3 million in 2011 from the Department of Education this year as part of the Obama administration's effort to reform education.

The list compiles Title I schools in the state that have continued to miss state and federal academic benchmarks, or have struggled to raise academic achievement as reflected in the state's standardized exams.

Title I schools are defined as those with a high population of low-income families, or about 40 percent or more of its students.

Scores for reading and math exams from 2008-2010, as well as schools' Adequate Yearly Progress scores, were used to compile the list. The AYP system is part of the No Child Left Behind law enacted under former President George W. Bush, and is tied to the ambitious -and controversial - requirement that all students in the U.S. reach standards in reading and math by 2014.

Blue Ridge was among the schools that qualified to seek improvement grants last year, and although the school sought federal funds, it was not a recipient. Because of that, the school will not seek another grant this year, said Walla Walla Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Linda Boggs.

"Although we did not receive the (School Improvement Grant) for the '10-'11 school year, we were able to implement some of the ideas contained within our rejected application," Boggs wrote in a statement. "Our student achievement results at this time are promising. Because of this, we will not be applying for a SIG 2011-'12 grant."

Superintendent Mick Miller said the district directed additional funds to Blue Ridge following the failed grant application last year, and he is confident in the work Blue Ridge staff are doing to bring academic improvements to the school.

"I believe in the principal and staff at Blue Ridge and believe our own efforts towards improvement are making a difference," Miller said in a statement.

Schools that seek federal improvement grants commit to use the funds to support one of four drastic changes:

A turnaround model, in which the school's principal would be replaced and half of the school's staff would be replaced. District would commit to working closely with principals to selecting new staff and programs.

A restart model, in which a school would be converted or closed and reopened as a charter school or charter management organization, or an education management organization.

School closure, which would simply close the school and enroll the students in higher-achieving schools within the district.

A transformation model, in which the principal would also be replaced and instructional reforms instituted.

In Washington state, a "restart" model would commit a school to an education management organization, since laws allowing charter schools have not been enacted, according to an OSPI news release.

Schools like Blue Ridge that choose not to seek improvement grants could still need to implement one of the four strategies if state scores don't improve in time.

Prescott Junior Senior High School was also among the 50 schools. High schools were included in the list and ranked based on low graduation rates. It was not clear this morning the direction Prescott would seek to take.

For school that do seek funds, grant applications are due to OSPI by March 4 and the awards will be announced later that month. Grant recipients would begin implementing their chosen intervention model by the start of the 2011-12 school year.

"I want to stress that this is a great opportunity," state Superintendent Randy Dorn said in a statement. "Some of the schools that have been struggling will be given a great chance to improve on their achievement."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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