Huron Park sees gains in Focus School report

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 24, 2015

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ROSEVILLE — Reading assistance programs are helping the bottom-performing students at Huron Park Elementary do better, but according to a presentation at the Roseville school board’s meeting Nov. 16, the school has not escaped its designation as a Focus School yet.

Principal Dan Schultz said Huron Park is in its second year as a Focus School, a state designation that means there is a big gap between the school’s top 30 percent of students and bottom 30 percent. That gap needs to be closed for the school to be delisted, Schultz said.

Since the state dropped the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP, standardized test in favor of the new Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or MSTEP, last spring, Schultz said the state did not investigate whether or not the school had come out of the Focus School situation. This year’s MSTEP was essentially a baseline test for future MSTEP exams.

“Maybe we wouldn’t have been (a Focus School) if they had kept the same test,” Schultz said. “They didn’t look if we were or not; they just said we were.”

Michigan Department of Education spokesman Bill Disessa confirmed that the state has suspended the accountability side of things for two years due to the introduction of MSTEP after 44 years of the MEAP test. 

“Right now, there are not the yearly accountability measures that we normally have,” Disessa said. “We’ll pick it back up in 2017.”

According to the MDE website, schools identified as Focus Schools during this suspension will continue to be “held” under their last yearly designation — whether that is the school’s first, second or third year. The site said it is typically a four-year path to get out of Focus School designation.

Schultz said the school has been focusing on reading with interventions and the Reading Mastery instructional program, with the belief that if students can get a greater handle on the written word, they will be able to understand more and improve by themselves in science and writing.

Under Reading Mastery — and a similar math program — Schultz said students are tested in reading and math after every 10 lessons, and if they pass the test, they go to the next topic; otherwise, students stay on the same topic until they get it. If students are flying through those tests, the school can check to see if they are ready for the following test without spending as much time on the lesson, which in turn moves those students to a higher reading or math level.

“We’re moving in the state of Michigan to personalized teaching: an (individualized education program) for every child and measuring the growth for every individual child,” Roseville Community Schools Superintendent John Kment said.

Schultz said the approach is working, and that students coming into the district with low scores are seeing a rapid improvement by the end of the school year. The school also is taking more time to communicate with students having attendance problems to try and keep them in school and figure out if there are any issues with which the school can help.

The district has been getting additional funding through the federal Title I program for technology upgrades, he said. That money has been used to purchase six iPads, 11 projectors, 32 Apple TVs and iPad stands, and Mimio software.

“Now if a teacher brings something up on the iPad, they have to hold it up and show it to all the students,” Schultz said. “Teachers can now use their iPad, put it down on the stand, and it’ll appear on the big screen.”

Functionally, every room of the school will now have those Apple TVs and projectors set up, he said, and the school is getting new iPad charging carts that kids can use with school iPad Minis.

Huron Park does have some challenges that it continues to contend with. Schultz said the school has seen an uptick in the number of students in the kindergarten classes — it gained about 30 kids for a total of 95 in that grade. The school lost students in the preschool program.

Additionally, Schultz said 25 percent of the student body at Huron Park qualifies for special education. He added that about 76 percent of all students at Huron Park qualify for the free- or reduced-lunch program, which indicates economic hardship.

 Deputy Superintendent Rebecca Vasil said new legislation will allow special education students to use individualized education program goals rather than just generalized student data to measure growth.

Finally, the school is working through language barriers with a few of its students, as there are students from Iraq and France going to Huron Park. Assistant Superintendent Mark Blaszkowski said that he believes the school’s Reading Mastery program helps with the students’ English language skills, and supplemental education once a week from the Macomb Intermediate School District teaches kids how to get around and live in the U.S.

Schultz said the school is given one year by the state to improve students’ English skills before the state starts to test and count them with the other kids.