State labels Fountain Elementary a focus school

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 9, 2013

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ROSEVILLE — The state designated Fountain Elementary School in Roseville as a focus school, signifying that the school is dealing with a large achievement gap between students.

According to a report by the Michigan Department of Education, focus schools are defined as having the largest achievement gaps in the state between the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent, using an average from the students’ standardized test scores from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program and Michigan Merit Exam.

A press release from the MDE notes that focus schools can be high-achieving schools, which nevertheless have a portion of the students struggling to keep up with the work.

“We believe that teachers in the classrooms every day have important responsibilities, and they work tirelessly to help students learn,” state Superintendent Mike Flanagan said in the release. “We will help the schools and teachers that need support to meet the unique needs of every student who depends on them.”

Roseville Community Schools Superintendent John Kment said this is the first year the school has received that designation, and that the school is currently trying to identify who its top and poorest students are, and what steps to take to close that gap.

He said the district is receiving assistance from the MDE, the Macomb Intermediate School District (ISD) and Michigan State University for that very subject.

“There’s a lot of people coming in and helping us to close that gap,” Kment said. “They come in, look at what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and they act as mentors, giving us their opinion and what other districts are doing. They visit our schools, talk with our principals and teachers, and are mentors.”

The MDE also develops and provides a “district toolkit” for schools that are given that designation in a bid to help the staff determine what the problems are and how to fix them.

Joann Neuroth, head of the statewide system of support with MDE, said the department assigns a “district improvement facilitator” to the district as a whole to help it put together a custom diagnostic data collection program. This way, the district can figure out specifically what it needs to do to improve student achievement.

“Better diagnostics lead to customized interventions to work where the school needs it,” Neuroth said. “We help focus schools do their own data dive and come up with one or two data-driven practices that, if carried out with fidelity, can close the gap.”

“And then we support the district to monitor and evaluate those plans and adjust them if needed,” she added.

Since this is the first time the Roseville school district has had a focus school, Kment said administrators have also been seeing what nearby districts that have had focus schools in the past, such as Warren Consolidated Schools, have done to help close the gap and improve student achievement.

A school that is not identified as a focus school the following year is “conditionally suspended” from the required interventions and strategies, provided it keeps out of the focus school designation through the 2015-16 school year, the MDE report said.

Neuroth said the state does not have any consequences in place for focus schools that fail to improve within the four-year period at this time, but he said districts generally are quite serious about closing the gap.

“My experience is that districts and schools take this focus designation seriously,” she said. “They do not want to just wait around and see what the consequences are at the end of the four years. They are very active at taking their own steps, and they are interested and eager to work with any help we can send them.”

Kment said it is too early in the semester to have a plan to improve the performance of the bottom-performing students in place yet, as the school is still identifying what it needs to do.

“That’s probably a Thanksgiving-ish time when we’ll have the plan in place,” he said.

Kment suggested parents could help students when they take those tests by making sure the students get a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast in the morning, so their minds are alert and ready to take the test.

Fountain Elementary Principal Wayne Johnson could not be reached by press time for comment.

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