Plan would put pressure on underperforming schools

Secondary schools in Arizona will face stricter standards of accountability if a proposal by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera gains approval when it is submitted in January to the state Legislature.

Molera went before the state Board of Education on Monday to outline the Arizona LEARNS (Leading Education through the Accountability and Results Notification System) program.

It was conceived after months of discussions with educators, business and community leaders, including Gov.

Jane Hull's task force on K-12 accountability.

Mike File, superintendent of schools in Mohave County and a member of the state board, missed Monday's meeting due to illness.

But he received information from a colleague Tuesday on the proposal.

"The plan seems pretty simple as plans go," File said.

"A team is put together that goes out and evaluates schools and if they are not meeting the standards they have one year to come up to the standards.

If a school is still not meeting the standard after that year, depending on how far off base it is, the board would decide if it can have an additional year or force it to consolidate."

All seven board members present for the meeting Monday endorsed the proposal, File said.

A key component of Arizona LEARNS is the School Leadership Initiative (SLI), which demands schools take action on behalf of their students through the creation of rewards or sanctions, a press release stated.

The state Department of Education will build comprehensive requirements for School Improvement Plans for under performing or failing schools with those schools submitting a plan to meet state instructional standards to the department.

The State Board and Department of Education will monitor the development and implementation of each School Improvement Plan.

The SLI will support schools in the following ways:

• It will created regional support for teacher training.

• It immediately enlists School Solution Teams to develop and test improvement strategies that work to benefit students.

Teams would have the power to review academic and financial policies at schools.

• It institutes Governing Board Academics to train local board members in developing school improvement plans.

• It will enable parents to have access to unprecedented interactive achievement data that would permit them to take action on behalf of their students.

Molera's proposal is a good idea, File said.

"I support consolidation," he said.

"I think we have some smaller school districts that are more political than larger districts and that's not always good for the children.

"The Chloride district has floundered the last couple of years.

But since joining the Kingman Unified School District their Title I and special education programs are running well."

Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, has some concerns about Arizona LEARNS.

"My primary concern is the timing and ability for schools to react to data," Contreras said.

"As it stands now, districts are not going to have much turnaround time for improvements before 2004.

It's not reasonable to think that a district which is underperforming can turn things around in six months, so it's going to take a little time for the board to come up with an improvement plan, implement it, get data back and ensure the plan is working as intended."

The plan would take effect in 2003 if the state Legislature approves it in January.

The legislature must vote on the plan since it has two funding components.

One concerns creating school leadership teams to be run out of county school offices and the other deals with the solution teams that would operate out of the state Department of Education, File said.