McKinley School in Santa Barbara made history this year as just the second elementary school in Santa Barbara County to get out of program improvement.
“It’s far and away the most exciting news a superintendent can share with the community,” Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash said during a news conference Wednesday morning, adding that telling the school was “one of the more touching moments of my career.”
After the results were announced Wednesday morning, McKinley Principal Emilio Handall talked with Noozhawk.
The school, at 350 Loma Alta Drive, which borders the working-class Lower Westside neighborhood, has faced many challenges. Ninety-nine percent of McKinley’s students are Hispanic, and all of the students quality for free or reduced lunches.
In a school such as McKinley, it would be easy to focus on the challenges and compare it to other schools with more resources.
“They’re very capable, but they have different needs,” Handall said of McKinley’s students. “When you know what the needs are and come up with best practices to address that, you get results.”
To get there, Handall said staff members began to focus on making their roles better.
“Each teacher, custodial worker, everybody,” he said — that way the school had a smooth process in place, enabling the focus to be on educating students.
He said there has also been a shift in perspective, and the staff has set high expectations for every student. Actively engaging parents also has been crucial.
The staff has been the key to the school’s success, Handall said.
“Our staff is inspiring to me,” he said. “They make me look good.”
Right now, the school’s Academic Performance Index score is at 774, just short of its state target of 800. Handall said he is excited about exceeding that goal.
“We’ll be able to serve as a model,” he said.
Through the No Child Left Behind Act, Title 1-funded schools (with at-risk student populations) are classified as program improvement if they miss Adequate Yearly Progress goals for two consecutive years. To get out, the school must meet goals for two consecutive years, both for the entire school and in each subgroup, which include Latino students, white students, socio-economically disadvantaged students, English learners and students with disabilities.
In the Santa Barbara district, 13 schools were in program improvement — now 12. Isla Vista School in Goleta is the only school in Santa Barbara County to get out of program improvement and its achievement goals increase every year, with the goal of making all students proficient by 2013-2014. With such high targets, most schools, including McKinley, can get out only through the “safe harbor” provision. Even if subgroups don’t hit their targets, the school gets credit if it scores well as a whole and the subgroups improve their scores from the previous year.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District showed overall growth in its achievement scores, both for the Academic Performance Index and Adequate Yearly Progress.
Fifteen schools maintained or improved their API scores from 2010, and Cash said the goal is to have all students at or above grade level by third grade — not just meeting the statewide goals.
He made special note of Harding University Partnership School, which improved its score by 57 points from last year.
Statewide test scores get a lot of attention, but Cash said the district’s own benchmark tests throughout the year are a better implication of the wide range of subjects students are learning.
He said the district can’t let students exit school unprepared for the real world or higher education and shouldn’t be satisfied until every school’s score is above 900. Upper elementary school grades have an issue with English-Language arts more than math, and he said the district as a whole needs to focus on teaching its English Learners not only the language, but using it to learn the content of their other classes.
The Santa Barbara district’s scores are as follows, with 2010’s scores in parentheses:
» Adams — 775 (745)
» Adelante Charter — 696 (678)
» Cleveland — 719 (741)
» Franklin — 743 (734)
» Harding University Partnership — 744 (687)
» McKinley — 774 (748)
» Monroe — 760 (764)
» Open Alternative — 775 (822)
» Peabody Charter — 883 (871)
» Roosevelt — 867 (847)
» Santa Barbara Charter — 792 (819)
» Santa Barbara Community Academy — 769 (778)
» Washington — 916 (904)
» Dos Pueblos — 820 (816)
» San Marcos — 776 (771)
» Santa Barbara — 790 (780)
» La Cuesta Continuation — 545* (514*)
“*” means this API is calculated for a small school. APIs based on small numbers of students are less reliable and, therefore, should be carefully interpreted.