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Clifty Creek Elementary sets priorities for improvement

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Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials have identified three priority areas of improvement for the failing Clifty Creek Elementary School.

Clifty Creek educators will focus on increasing English/language arts, math and applied skills proficiency by 12 percent on ISTEP+ tests.

Internally, however, the school has outlined more ambitious ISTEP+ goals:

  • Increase the pass rate to 70 percent for English/language arts
  • Ensure 85 percent of students earn a minimum of one point on the literary text/nonfiction applied skills portion
  • Boost the math portion pass rate to 70 percent

Those priority areas will complement eight turnaround principles that have been identified at the school.

“This isn’t something we came up with recently,” Director of Elementary Education Teresa Heiny told the crowd of about 50 attending a public hearing Monday at Smith Elementary.

Improvement efforts have been underway for two years, based on the school’s earlier results in the Department of Education’s A-F Accountability results, calculated by taking into account student performance, growth and participation on ISTEP+ testing.

Clifty Creek lost points last year for performance — 53.1 percent of students passed the English/language arts portion and 58.3 percent passed the math portion in 2013 — and for little student growth from year to year.

Clifty ISTEP+ goals for 2014

70% of students in Grades 3 to 6 will pass the English/language arts portion

85% of students in Grades 3 to 6 will score a minimum of 1 point on the literacy text/nonfiction applied skills portion

70% of students in Grades 3 to 6 will pass the math portion

Free & reduced lunch

Percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch at Clifty Creek

2012-13:    76.7%

2011-12:    75.8%

2010-11:    69.2%

2009-10:    50.5%

In response to the first F in 2011, the school hired 15 teachers with project-based learning experience, replaced former principal Adam Ulrich with Cynthia Frost, invested $2 million in technology upgrades and added teaching assistants to each classroom.

The goals are intended, in part, to break the tide of three consecutive F grades in the A-F Accountability ratings. Such a track record requires that formal improvement plans be submitted to the state.

Heiny said the changes seem to be working based on Acuity scores, which are gathered several times a year to track progress and act as a predictor of ISTEP+ performance. Scores this year have improved between grade levels and between cohorts, according to data from September, December and February.

Board member Polly Verbanic asked if, based on Acuity scores and other indicators of progress, whether Heiny could extrapolate that the school will meet its goal of making a C next year.

“I don’t see any reason we can’t,” Heiny said.

The standardized testing environment could be problematic, however, Superintendent John Quick acknowledged.

District students struggled last spring when taking ISTEP+ exams online.

“Had we had the opportunity to test (on) paper and pencil last year, we might not be having this meeting tonight,” he said. “I believe strongly in the progress Clifty has made.”

Quick is a Book Buddy at Clifty Creek, and he walks the building several times a year.

“They’ve made tremendous progress, I think, in the last couple years. But it’s hard to demonstrate that,” he said.

Parents make points

Although they said they appreciated the efforts so far, at least three parents are not yet satisfied.

Janice Kotnik, a homeowner in the Clifty Creek district and a parent of two former students, said the student population at the school has shifted so drastically that a move to project-based learning alone will not solve the problem.

The school has the district’s highest percentage of free- and reduced-lunch students, according to the corporation profile on the Department of Education website.

Quick also said the school faces one of the highest mobility rates in the district.

“It’s caused by the unwillingness of families who value education to place their children in Clifty Creek,” Kotnik said. “They will not purchase a home in a district with an F-rated school. Would you?”

She said the balance in the student population was disrupted when test scores started plummeting — and the rising percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch each year support her statement.

In 2009-10, 50.5 percent of students qualified for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

That number spiked to 69.2 percent in 2010-11 — the first year Clifty Creek received an F in the new accountability system.

Participation in free and reduced-price lunch has continued to climb, to 76.7 percent last year.

Elizabeth Rutan, a mother of three Clifty Creek students, did not speak at the public hearing but said she shares the same concern about demographics.

Given the socioeconomic situation at Clifty, she said efforts should be made for class sizes to be smaller.

“I feel like our classes should stay at about 20 kids per teacher,” she said. “This would allow our teachers more time to work one-on-one with our students that are falling behind grade level.”

Kotnik recommended implementing a self-contained High Ability Program, formerly known as the Academic Challenge Program, similar to the ones in place at Parkside and Southside elementary schools.

“It would immediately improve test scores as the scores from higher-achieving students will factor into the school’s overall scores,” she said.

But Quick said the High Ability Program is not one the district would recommend or could afford to expand.

Currently the programs bus in about a quarter of the students. Quick said with shrinking transportation dollars, a program at Clifty Creek would not work logistically. In fact, the property-tax-cap issue across the state has forced several school district to declare they will no longer provide transportation to and from school.

Quick said the district is instead focusing on grouping clusters of high-ability students at every school and every grade level.

He said it’s a method that ensures every student is challenged, even if there is not room for them in the High Ability Programs.

But Kotnik said that’s not enough.

The school is still losing some of its highest-achieving students to the two existing programs. Clifty Creek students accepted into one of the High Ability Programs can provide their own transportation, or bus transportation can be arranged through the high schools, which serve as transfer points.

Board president Jeff Caldwell approached Kotnik after the meeting and thanked her for sharing her thoughts, and he said her suggestion for a High Ability Program at Clifty Creek deserves consideration.

More involvement sought

Jodie Eaken, president of the Clifty Creek PTO, spoke on behalf of a group of parents who would like to see an advisory committee formed that includes parents, teachers and a school board member.

She said about 15 parents got together and came up with the proposal for a new committee. She said she spoke with the majority of the teachers at Clifty Creek, and each one was excited about the prospect.

“We ask the school board to work together with parents and teachers with the decision-making process on crucial issues that face Clifty Creek,” she said. “Please collaborate with people who spend the majority of their time with the students, the ones who know them best, the parents and teachers.”

Quick said there is already a council in place that represents the “three legs of the stool.”

Each school has a Continuous Improvement Council with membership divided equally between parents, teachers and support staff that reports to the Corporation Continuous Improvement Council.

Eaken said she doubts that is going to work, however.

“It’s something that looks great on paper, but it just doesn’t get implemented,” she said.

Quick said the group is composed of three teachers, three administrators and three other representatives and meets several times each year to draft a School Improvement Plan.

He said a possible solution could be making the group more visible and more transparent.

“Sometimes it’s just an awareness thing,” Quick said.

Eaken said she will reach out to the administration in about a week to set up a meeting with teachers and leaders. She wants to learn what the teachers need and want first.

“They’re the ones that are in the classroom with all the kids,” she said.

She said current decisions are made at the administration level despite the input from current advisory councils and committees.

“I hear your input. We as a board hear your input,” Caldwell said. “That’s exactly what we’ve been listening for.”


Feb. 1

Student Achievement Plan

Clifty Creek Elementary School submitted a Student Achievement Plan to the state that addresses eight turnaround principles: school leadership; school climate and culture; effective instruction; curriculum; assessment and intervention system; effective staffing practices; enabling the effective use of data; effective use of time; effective family and community engagement.

The plan also identifies three Priority Areas for Improvement: English/language arts performance, math performance and applied skills proficiency.

Feb. 28

Ensuring school leadership

Superintendent John Quick has submitted a letter of assurance in Principal Cynthia Frost’s leadership abilities. He was required to demonstrate with data that Frost is capable of leading a turnaround.

March 1

Conduct a public hearing

A public hearing was conducted at Monday’s board meeting to collect input on Clifty Creek’s priority school designation.

About 50 attended and two commented:

Janice Kotnik requested the school add a High Ability Program to Clifty Creek, similar to those at Southside and Parkside elementary schools. She said the balance in the student population has shifted since test scores have dropped.

Jodie Eaken proposed a new advisory board that would include parents, teachers and a school board member.

Spring 2014

Participate in two monitoring visits: Kathy McCarty, regional outreach coordinator with the Indiana Department of Education, will visit the school Friday and then once more later in the year.

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