State releases five Grosse Pointe schools from Focus Schools list

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 19, 2015

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GROSSE POINTES — The state has removed all five of the Grosse Pointe schools that were named to the Focus Schools list during 2012, the first year the Michigan Department of Education launched its Focus School designation.

The Focus Schools list consists of schools that have achievement gaps between the top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent of students.

When the Focus Schools designation was launched in 2012, Defer, Ferry and Trombly elementary schools and Parcells and Pierce middle schools were placed on the list.

“In the last year, we are happy to share with you that both Trombly and Pierce were released from the Focus School list, and then just this past week we learned that the last three schools from that initial cohort — Defer, Ferry and Parcells — are being released as well,” Deputy Superintendent of Educational Services Jon Dean said.

The district has yet to receive the final data from the state on that, but Dean was able to share the good news for the district during the Aug. 17 school board meeting.

The district still has two schools on the list, Grosse Pointe North High School and Poupard Elementary, which were schools that were placed on the list during 2013.

“We have been told by MDE that those schools have been making significant growth,” Dean said. “We requested that they remove those schools from the Focus list; they declined.”

However, if the schools continue to make gains, the state will re-evaluate them in a couple of years. 

Since the list’s inception, there have been a number of districts that have raised concerns about the data and methodology used in establishing the list, Dean said.

“We work very intentionally with our teachers and our administrators to address the needs of all of our students,” Dean said. “One of the challenges that we have as soon as we start talking about underperforming lower groups of students, the question is, how are you addressing that? Are you addressing that by bringing the top down or the bottom up? Our focus all along, and working with our teachers, has been, how do we bring our bottom students up?

“We try very hard to use great strategies with all kids, all of the time, regardless of whether they are Focus Schools or not,” he said, adding that he has said many times in the past that he doesn’t “get too worried when the state creates weird constructs to identify us, so I’m not going to get too excited when we get off of their strange-construct list, but at the end of the day, it’s still good.”

Board Treasurer Brian Summerfield agreed.

“I’m happy to hear that we’re off of these lists, not because we’ve been bringing the top down … but because we’re making all of our students learn, and we use targeted programs to help and identify people,” he said. “That is the real takeaway here, and I applaud your effort.”

Board President Judy Gafa was pleased with the news as well.

“We have an outstanding staff that works with and for our students,” Gafa said. “Let’s just keep up the good work and, hopefully, they come up with a better way to rank our schools.”

Board Secretary Margaret Weertz said it is good news that the five initial schools are off the list.

“I would say (that) still a lot of schools don’t get removed from the list, so I’m really proud of the hard work that is being done, and a lot of those schools who don’t get removed also do hard work, so our strategies must be working, so I commend the staffs of those schools,” she said.

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