Plans to boost St. Helena Elementary's performance take shape

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Plans to boost St. Helena Elementary's performance take shape

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, September 29, 2012   |  979 Words  |  

In recent community meetings about the struggling St. Helena Elementary School, a theme has emerged: diagnose the problem, then treat it, community members say.

Beaufort County School District staff say they've figured out why the school received a failing rating on recent federal accountability standards, and the plan to turn things around is taking shape.

A 14-point plan based on community feedback, and a focus on math -- the area most responsible for the school's rating setback -- will be primary tools.

Interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said both are needed to bolster the school, which received the only "F" rating in the district when federal accountability data were released in early August.

"If you look at the action plan, there are several things laid out that talk about student behavior and parent involvement," she said. "All of those pieces are part of what needs to happen. In addition, we need to make sure we have that academic component.

"It's a multifaceted approach for that school."

THE ACTION PLAN

The action plan, presented at a school board meeting Tuesday, details adjustments and programs the school will offer this academic year.

They're based on concerns shared at a community meeting in late August. The school's School Improvement Council then prioritized the list.

At the top: reducing class sizes to 20 students. That's already been done, and two teachers were hired to make it happen, principal Kay Keeler said.

Next comes reducing discipline problems. The school has hired a "dean of students," who works with students on behavior issues among other duties. They've also set aside space for a "redirection center,"where students who are acting up will go to cool off and reconsider their behavior.

The plan also includes partnering with health care organizations to bring regular check-ups to the school's students, and adding another after-school tutoring program if it can be funded by grants.

School officials said resources and funding would be shifted from other areas to cover the costs of implementing this plan, as well as changes at four other struggling schools.

Several elements of the plan call for more community outreach and parental support.Keeler said the school will start a "Parent University" program, already offered at other district schools, to teach parenting skills and tactics. Support groups for single parents and grandparents raising their grandchildren also will be offered.

Keeler said there will also be monthly community meetings, and the last Friday of every month the school will be open for chats with administrators and tours. That's something Keeler's done in the past, but it hasn't been well attended, she said.

Boosting parent involvement at the school is key, Keeler said.

"I think we want the parents to be involved as much as they possibly can be involved," she said. "We know that learning takes place in the classroom, but it also takes place at home. ... We want parents to know it's OK to say 'help me.' "

SPOTLIGHT ON MATH

When the district analyzedresults that led to the "F" rating, it quickly became clear math pulled the school down.

Students' scores on math Palmetto Assessment of State Standards exams are weighted more heavily than their scores on science or social studies exams under the state's new system of rating progress towards federal goals.

Chief of instructional services Dereck Rhoads said math performance is worth 35 of the 100 total points available. St. Helena Elementary earned just 2.8 of those points. The school did OK in other areas -- earning 23.8 of the 35 points in English and 4.3 of the 5 points allotted to social studies, for instance.

Rosswurm said the district is still figuring out how best to address the math deficiency. A math interventionist will be hired to help students in small groups, both within and outside of classrooms.

The district monitors whether teachers are sticking to the math curriculum and are targeting instruction to the weaknesses of individual students. They'll look at how much time is given to math, and even what time of day it's taught. Depending on what they find, changes could be made, Rosswurm said.

The school also will have two weeks of extended learning time this school year, paid for with the remnants of stimulus funding. As many students as can attend will participate in those extra school days, which will focus heavily on math skills, Rosswurm said.

A more detailed plan will be presented to the Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday, Rosswurm said.

"We want to make sure that we've got everything in place to be able to support (math instruction)," she said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

Superintendent timeline set; bus cameras still a possibility for Beaufort County; Sept. 25, 2012

Change needed at St. Helena Elementary, community members say; Sept. 19, 2012


Meetings planned to discuss St. Helena Elementary concerns; Sept. 14, 2012

St. Helena community rallies for change at elementary school; Sept. 9, 2012

District targets five struggling schools for extra help to boost achievement; Aug. 21, 2012

Beaufort County students continue gains on state assessments; Aug. 2, 2012