County system waiting to hear from state about struggling schools

By Julie Fann
star staff

  Carter County School System officials are waiting to hear from Nashville about schools that may be targeted as not making adequate yearly progress for the second year in a row. On Tuesday, Dr. Shirley Ellis, director of federal programs, was writing a very difficult letter to parents of children who attend several struggling county schools.
  "Parents have the option of transferring their child to another school if the school their child is attending is targeted as being in need of school improvement," Ellis said. "I have to give them (parents) a reasonable time, naturally, to reply and also have time to weigh their options and choices if they want to transfer their child."
  The first day of school for the county is Aug. 10. The state will notify the school system via e-mail and a telephone call to Superintendent Dallas Williams on Aug. 1 about those schools that are still struggling. Seven schools are considered at risk and include Valley Forge Elementary, Hampton Elementary, Cloudland Middle and Cloudland High Schools, Unaka Elementary, Hampton High School and Unaka High School.
  The state evaluates students in math and reading and attendance with statistics broken down by ethnic group, students who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and those who are limited English proficient. Schools whose student populations are targeted as not making adequate yearly progress for the second year in a row are determined as needing school improvement.
  "It means that the school itself has another year to improve. If they don't approve within another year, then other measures are taken until, finally, after so many years, there are certain things that happen such as restructuring or reconstitution, or, in the end, the state taking over a school or a school system," Ellis said. "We know a little bit more about the high schools than we do the elementary, although some of them it's very close in some instances. So we're just not ready to say or to even predict if one or two or any of our schools would go into school improvement."
  The Department of Education Web site posts the 2003 report card for every school system across the state. The Caucasian population at Cloudland Middle School is listed as not proficient in reading, language arts or writing, and Caucasian students at Cloudland High also scored not proficient on the English Gateway exam.
  At Hampton Elementary School, the economically disadvantaged population scored not proficient in math, and Hampton High School scored not proficient on the Algebra Gateway exam or the English Gateway exam among Caucasians and the economically disadvantaged. Economically disadvantaged students at HHS also scored not proficient on the English Gateway but passed the Algebra Gateway.
  Economically disadvantaged students at Unaka Elementary did not score proficient in math and, at the high school, the Caucasian population did not score proficient on the Algebra Gateway exam.
  The Caucasian and economically disadvantaged populations at Valley Forge Elementary School did not score proficient in math, reading, language arts, or writing.
  Unfortunately, Ellis said the school system is also waiting on TCAP test results for the past academic year, so officials aren't able to predict much at all about the possible fate of county schools. Ellis said the latest TCAP test was newly designed, and the state needed time to scale results. She said the system doesn't expect to get the results until October.
  "We're basically just trying to cover some bases and be ready with things in case the 'what-ifs' happen, and it's sad that we're in this situation - that any school system would be in this situation," she said.