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Threat of restructuring at Cox Elementary yields plenty of ideas

Daniel Luna, 10, left, a student at Cox Elementary School in Dade City, adds liquid fertilizer to a container of pond water during a classroom science experiment.

Daniel Luna, 10, left, a student at Cox Elementary School in Dade City, adds liquid fertilizer to a container of pond water during a classroom science experiment.

DADE CITY — Restructuring might not cause Cox Elementary School to look much different than it has looked in the past, if the Pasco School Board likes the draft proposals coming out of an advisory committee.

The "next steps" floating out of the school's restructuring committee Monday mostly referred to additional training for Cox teachers and administrators. They called for increasing parental involvement, adopting "schoolwide focus areas" and getting the school some extra help in recruiting new educators.

Those ideas are a far cry from the most drastic possibilities permitted in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which include replacing the staff and converting it to a charter school.

It was such major overhaul provisions that worried Cox teachers the most over the summer and through the first half of the school year. The school experienced its biggest teacher turnover in several years. Many educators talked about how difficult it is to know they're working hard, yet still face the reality that their students might not achieve "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, for another year.

Cox has seen strong gains among its students when it comes to meeting state standards, which the federal government uses in measuring a school's progress. But the school has not made a year's worth of progress in a year since No Child Left Behind took effect in 2002.

If it misses again this year, Cox would be restructured.

Improvement needed

One of the strengths that principal Leila Mizer saw in the proposals, which emerged after months of talks, was in having mentor teachers trained and helping with other educators.

Assistant principal Latoya Jordan added that an emphasis on hiring teachers who understand the school's student body — mostly poor and minorities — would help the school.

Allowing the school to get first pick during recruiting appealed to Mizer, too.

"We get a chance to recruit those people and hire those people before they go to the newer schools," she said.

But the group also saw the need to make improvements to the plan, which was written primarily at the district office.

Group members questioned how the district could entice teachers to Dade City, even with an earlier recruiting effort. Many teachers commute to the area.

They wondered how many of the somewhat vague phrases might actually play out, such as getting specific help to teachers on strategies to reach English language learners.

Mizer also worried about how the school might decide on its priority areas.

"At Cox, everything is a priority," she said, noting that when the school has changed its focus in the past, the subject areas with a lessened profile suffered.

To help the students beyond the classroom might require more time at school, reading resource teacher Melinda Smith observed.

"A lot of times we run out of time in the day for these extra interventions," she said.

Smith also suggested that the district might need to track students into middle school to make sure they don't get lost in the shuffle.

Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly recognized that many of the ideas are incomplete, and others might emerge during further conversations.

"Many of these areas are still broad and not specific. I know that's not comfortable for a lot of people. Many of these ideas we want to flesh out throughout the spring," Reilly said, adding that the administration wants to confer with the school staff as it adds details.

Taking a look ahead

Can the district do all it is setting out to do? Title I supervisor Elena Garcia raised that question, noting the district provides a lot of training and has many schools with demands at some level or another.

Reilly responded that as the district tightens its focus, it will mean using the same staff in different ways. There's been plenty of discussion about this aspect at the district level, she said.

Next up in the planning process?

Well, rather than preparing for something radical and new, the school will be asking its existing staff who wants to stay and who wants to leave if Cox must restructure.

There will be a lot of hard work ahead if the school doesn't make AYP, and some educators might not want to do it.

A couple of staff members said they have already heard many of their colleagues saying they do not plan to return next year.

The school also will be looking for its mentors and coaches, collecting more data and learning how to analyze it, and setting more specific time frames just in case this all comes to pass.

Children take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test beginning next week. School grades and AYP results are due out in mid July.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Threat of restructuring at Cox Elementary yields plenty of ideas 03/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 3, 2008 9:20pm]
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