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Schools using grants to improve test scores

January 25, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Bester, Eastern and Winter Street elementary schools are using three state grants totaling $351,451 to improve test scores and reform each school overall.

The three schools received funds from the Maryland State Department of Education's Challenge Schools Initiative, an effort to target schools struggling to meet Maryland School Performance Program standards.

The schools are using comprehensive reform models purchased with the grants. Developed by private researchers, universities and nonprofits, the models outline a management structure and principles designed to drive school progress.

The Challenge program, begun in 1995, in 1998 received legislative reauthorization through June 2001. To be eligible for the Challenge grants, each school had to meet specific criteria.

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A school had to show a low average attendance and low socio-economic conditions, according to Director of Elementary Education John Festerman. It also had to show evidence it was improving.

Last spring, the schools began a six-month planning process to choose a reform model, according to Deputy Schools Superintendent Theresa Flak.

After analyzing test data and other statistics, each school and its improvement team chose a model. "They tore those models apart until they found the ones that best fit their school," said Festerman.

To get the state grant, at least 80 percent of the school's faculty had to accept the model, Flak said. Each proposal had to be defended before a panel of state department judges.

Bester chose "Accelerated Schools," a model developed as a Stanford University research project. Eastern chose "Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound," a public school extension of the adventure program of the same name.

Winter Street chose "Modern Red Schoolhouse," a model developed by a nonprofit institute in Nashville, Tenn. All three schools received unconditional approval from the state, Flak said.

Administrators from Bester, Eastern and Winter Street reported to the School Board on the models last week. Ellen Hayes, principal of Winter Street, said none of the reform models are a quick fix but the school is adapting.

"It's been very exciting," she said. "Most of the staff have bought in and are very, very pleased."

Eastern Principal Rose Pellegrino said "Expeditionary Learning" will help her students apply the skills they learn. "I love what it's doing for our school and our community," she said.

Robin Handler, assistant principal at Bester, said the school's philosophy is very compatible with its reform model.

Festerman said he believes the models will improve Bester, Eastern and Winter Street schools. "We are expecting big changes from these schools," he said.

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