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Albert Harris working on improvements

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Albert Harris Elementary School, which was identified as one of 37 low-performing 2013-14 Priority schools in Virginia, is going through a three-year process to make improvements.

The first year focuses on planning and goal setting, and years two and three will involve implementing goals and monitoring, according to Angilee Downing, assistant superintendent of instruction for Martinsville City Public Schools.

In a recent letter to Albert Harris parents, Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said the division will focus on making sure students are being taught the material they need in the manner they need to succeed on Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) tests; increasing learning time for students during the school day; increasing professional development for teachers and administrators for teaching the SOLs; and involving parents and the community in the effort.

Downing said she and Albert Harris Principal Felicia Preston had been to training provided by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The training included instructional practices for high-poverty schools, Downing said.

Part of the planning process, she said, is doing a needs assessment, including surveying the faculty and looking at SOL data. Based on the assessment, the school division will work with VDOE to determine what supports are needed, she added.

The target date to have the plans in place is February, Downing said. During the implementation and monitoring phase, “anything that is not working, we change,” she said.

Downing said improvements will include a tiered system of supports in reading and math, based on the levels of students’ needs. For example, tier 1 will involve academic help that all students receive; tier 2 will involve students who need a little extra help working in small groups; and tier 3 will involve students who read below grade level working with a reading specialist, maybe one on one.

One part of the Priority School program is that a company that specializes in professional development will be hired to assist Albert Harris, Downing said.

VDOE will provide other school improvement resources, but Downing said she does not yet know the specifics.

Downing wanted to make some things clear.

“The issue is not qualified staff” at Albert Harris, she said. “We have 100 percent qualified staff.”

Also, “The state is not coming in to take over” Albert Harris, Downing said. VDOE is providing training, resources and professional development.

Heath stated in her letter: “We welcome the resources and technical assistance Albert Harris will receive through the (VDOE) Office of School Improvement that can help us in the improvement process.”

In an interview, Heath said, “It’s also giving some opportunities for other schools (in the division) to participate in training, a few little things that end up benefiting other schools as well.” According to Downing and Heath’s letter, the school division already has worked to put in place additional supports for students and teachers at Albert Harris, including:

• Last school year, an on-site instructional coordinator/coach was added to ensure teachers are using research-based strategies aligned to the needs of Albert Harris students.

• This year, additional teachers were hired to create smaller class sizes.

• Also this year, an instructional technology resource teacher based out of Albert Harris was added to ensure teachers are integrating technology to promote student success.

• Last year, an additional reading specialist was added to address the individualized needs of students.

• This year, a licensed English as a Second Language teacher was added. Albert Harris has the highest population of ESL students in the school division.

• This school year, a school resource officer was added to help ensure student safety.

• Also this school year, VDOE provided iReady Learning, a computer program that provides specific information about a child’s instructional needs and instruction targeted to the student’s needs.Albert Harris is one of 37 low-performing schools the VDOE identified as 2013-14 Priority schools. Those schools must engage state-approved turnaround partners to help design and implement school-reform models that meet state and federal requirements, a VDOE news release stated.

 

 
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