By Sarah McCartan
Today’s Escambia County School Board Regular Workshop began with the recently added agenda item—the fate of Lincoln Park Elementary School. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas began the meeting by recapping the current state of affairs before revealing the turnaround plan for moving forward.
Although the final scores will not be released until July, looking at the previous year’s F score as well as projections for 2013, Thomas announced that of the 395 required points, the school is projected to only receive 231.
He provided a handout to board members to review, showcasing the danger of Lincoln Park being an F school (again)—citing a chief culprit of reading proficiency.
“In every cell we measure, they have declined,” stated Thomas. “I believe they’re going to be an F. I see no way the school would recover and not be an F.”
Up next was a Powerpoint presentation outlining the options for moving forward under state law including 1) converting the school to a district turnaround 2) closing and reassigning staff 3) closing and reopening as a charter school 4) contracting with an outside entity 5) a hybrid, or combination of the available options.
Thomas then revealed plans for the hybrid turn around.
“This is not a typical school closure,” he said.
Under the plan, Lincoln Park is to be in essence, partially closed, reconstructed to support solely pre-k through second grade levels, (maintaining 5 current ESE pre-k units and adding 1 VPK unit to total at 2). The site will maintain board approved staffing and the 107 students currently enrolled in grades third through fifth will be reassigned to other schools in the district.
Maintaining a 95% capacity at the receiving schools, these 100 plus students will be directed to Ensley, Pine Meadow, Brentwood and Longleaf, suggesting the greatest number of students (based on current enrollment and capacity), be directed to Longleaf (estimated 55 students).
Parents will have the option of other choices within zone.
Thomas encourages this reconstruction will allow focus on ensuring these early grade levels are proficient. He sees this plan as the “opportunity for a solution.” That is, clear early focus on literary and math skills where they need to be so they are prepared when they do enter testing range.
At the current Lincoln Park site, several parent programs will be put in place, along with an onsite social worker. The plan also includes various funding options, including Title 1 grants and seeking renewed partnerships in order to maximize support for the school.
Transition, or turn around, steps include notifying parents of plan/choices; making staffing adjustments for receiving schools; advertising and hiring of staff for current site; advertising and adoption of attendance zone changes for accepting schools.
“Doing nothing is not an option under Florida statute,” said Thomas.
Thomas stated that this could not wait for action until the FCAT grades are finalized, as that would be “too late” and too close to the start of the school year for staffing, reassigning and moving forward.
Board member Linda Moultrie brought several concerns to the table, including recognizing that the current principal of Lincoln Park, Christine Nixon had increased enrollment at the school (and even gone door to door to bring students back) and that without a shift in perception of the school, the numbers will face further decline and the school could still potentially face a closure (in the future).
She also cited her concern with breaking up families within the current plan and agrees to disagree with Thomas that all the resources that could have been put in place for the school to be effective were in fact implemented.
“I’m not going to accept the district hasn’t put resources in place. I’ve always been trying not to close the school,” said Thomas.
The conversation was interrupted with a time sensitive item—charter schools’ quarterly reports as well as school specific monthly reports.
The leadership team from A.A. Dixon approached the board, noting that in crunching numbers thus far, they do not foresee having 395 points. The announcement then came that they will be transitioning to a private school structure, and will be working as needed with students who will be transitioning into public schools system, as well as those who will be remaining.
Although the school has seen improvement in language arts, they lag behind in math in sciences. The team received a widespread thank you and encouragement from the school board.
The discussion regarding Lincoln Park reconvened with feedback from the community including Lincoln Park volunteers, representative from Exxon-Mobil (a partner that preciously provided financial support to Lincoln Park) and area community members.
Parents and current volunteers shared concerns of those third through fifth graders simply becoming “lost in the numbers” at these other [larger] district schools.
A current site volunteer urged the board to consider that if you remove the faculty and volunteers who have dedicated their lives to serving these children, the children are going to feel that it is their fault—and suffer from a sense of abandonment.
City Council Representative Gerald Wingate brought his own concerns.
“I’m concerned with the education of blacks in our community. Every kid is entitled to a good education,” said Wingate.
He also suggested, like others, that the school was not given the resources it needed.
As far as the reassignment of the current staff at Lincoln Park goes, the state mandates that only those teachers who have shown 65% gain are able to reapply at the current site.
A third grade teacher at Lincoln Park, Michelle Leitner shared her sentiments.
“The removal of the entire staff will do more harm. We are a big part of the students’ lives,” she stated.
As far as resources are concerned, Leitner noted reading and math coaches that were onsite this year as being first years and cited them as admitting to not knowing what they were doing—causing the teachers to have to pick up this slack in addition to day to day extraneous efforts.
Several other board members spoke out regarding the situation.
“We have to do what the state tells us, and it’s not what we want to do. It’s not fun,” said Slayton.
While heated debate sprang up in regards to this being a larger and even global issue, Chairman Jeff Bergosh suggested that the problem starts with the parents, and no amount of effort by the staff or administration is guaranteed to fix what he considers to be the bottom line.
“Parents (and families) need to look in the mirror,” stated Bergosh.
“The most important thing is to reach out and get parents involved. I am still concerned everything we do may not work,” he said.
Patty Hightower raised concerns of keeping the current curriculum in place at the current reconstructed site for a year before looking at shifts in teaching models.
“I don’t want us to do something that’s not going to work,” she said.
Thomas reminded this is why the state requires a turn over staff in this situation, and will be moving forward with addressing the personnel needs, hiring individuals who will be charged with specific tasks.
Following the discussion was a review by the of FCAT scores on the whole, in which Thomas summed up the reading and math portions as “status quo.”
He also spoke in regard to school accountability and “rules” (or as he refers, flawed measurements) that will be fully implemented this year.
“I don’t think we’re going to look good when school accountability comes out,” he stated.
Another item brought to the board for discussion by Hightower was the School Choice Plain, which raised further discussions of the perceptions of “failing” schools as well as the nearly maxed capacities of those “succeeding” or sought after schools in the district. Hightower suggests looking into which schools are being left repeatedly to cite patterns.
The School Choice Plan allows those attending grade F schools the option to request a change. Currently there are 11,000 students not attending their zoned schools. Thomas reminds that number could increase when having to offer the plan to schools on the updated list once final FCAT scores are in.
As an additional agenda item for the workshop, Slayton had raised the question as to who was still “in waiting” for covered P.E. facilities. Several middle school facilities are to be up for review in time. Meanwhile 14 elementary schools (50%) remain in waiting with no guarantees. Lincoln Park currently has an enclosed P.E. structure.