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The future of Colonial Beach schools is in the lap of the School Board

The very future of Colonial Beach schools may be up for grabs as a result of action by the Commonwealth of Virginia last week.
 Although Colonial Beach High School is fully accredited in Virginia for academic year 2008-2009, last week the high school was rated as “Not in Improvement” and designated “Tier II” by the Virginia Department of Education under federal standards measuring student achievement in English and Mathematics.
It will be up to the School Board,  which meets today,  to decide what action is best for Colonial Beach students. They have several courses of action available to them, all of which will spell significant change to the schools’ operation.

In 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation was put into place with strict guidelines measuring student achievement in English, mathematics, science and history/social science.  Student progress is measured using Standards of Learning (SOL) tests given in grades 3, 5, 8 and at the high school level.  SOLs are given at the end of coursework in each subject. The Not in Improvement, Tier II status essentially says that CBHS has failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in both English and math for students attending Colonial Beach High School, which places the high school in the bottom 5 percent out of 1,865 Virginia public schools.
According to Donna Power, superintendent of Colonial Beach Schools, this is the first year that CBHS has failed to meet AYP in English and math. “Colonial Beach schools have been in school improvement since I’ve come on board, ” Power said. Unfortunately, the publicity surrounding this latest announcement from the state leaves the board and the town in a tough situation.
According to a recently released Virginia Department of Education report, only 76 percent of Colonial Beach High School students passed the English SOL.  In order to achieve AYP,  81 percent of students must have passed the English SOL for the 2008-2009 school year. Colonial Beach High School students fared worse in mathematics, with only 73 percent of students passing the Math SOL.
African-American and economically disadvantaged students showed the worse overall percentages, with only 60 percent and 56 percent, respectively, passing the English SOL and 56 percent and 64 percent, respectively, passing the mathematics SOL. Statewide, 89 percent of students passed the English SOL and 86 percent of students passed the mathematics SOL.
Data for students enrolled in the special education curriculum was not available as students are grouped under a regional enrollment status. Because the high school is lagging behind in student improvement in English and mathematics, federal regulations under No Child Left Behind require that one of several action plans be implemented: One alternative would be to replace the current principal, Clint Runyan, and at least half of the staff while implementing a revised instruction program.
 Alternatively, the town could close the high school and reopen under a charter school operator meeting strict requirements.  While this change would be radical, with the small present enrollment, the idea of a special charter school might be an attractive alternative for a school system that has been foundering for years with budget and enrollment problems.
Two other alternatives are available:  One would mandate closing the high school and enrolling students in Washington and Lee High School, which serves Westmoreland County and has currently met AYP.
The least disruptive alternative plan would include replacing the current principal, implementing instructional reform, extending learning and teacher planning time and providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
One positive aspect of the Tier II rating is that there are Title I school improvement grants or stabilization funds that would be made available to the high school to achieve improvement goals.
According to Power, after receiving notification from the Virginia Department of Education of the Title II Not in Improvement rating, she submitted a school profile to staff at the Virginia Department of Education and participated in a web conference with DOE representatives on Monday, March 8.  Power advised The Journal that she is working with Virginia Department of Education staff as she prepares her recommendations to the School Board.
Power is also preparing a waiver request for submission to the DOE in order to waive certain requirements mandated by the Tier II designation.  If granted, the waiver would allow Colonial Beach Schools to accept the federal stabilization funds without meeting some or all of the mandated requirements.
It is expected that Power will have a full report with recommendations for presentation to the School Board at its next meeting, today, Wednesday, March 10, at 7 p.m.
“We will decide where we go from here, ” Power said.

Kathy Flanagan

 

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