Tuesday afternoon the Mobile County School board approved significant changes at three of the district’s failing schools identified by the Alabama Department of Education earlier this year.
The vote affirmed a $2.5 million school improvement plan that will effect 16 schools in total, and will notably include the conversion of Jeremiah A. Denton Middle School into the district’s seventh magnet program and the reconstitution of CL Scarborough Middle School.
Under the Alabama Accountability Act a “failing school” is defined as one listed in the lowest sixth percentile of standardized reading and math scores in the previous year. Currently, student progress is measured by the Act Aspire in grades 3-8 and by Plan, which tests high school sophomores.
Based on those assessments, 12 schools — mostly middle schools — were designated as failing in 2015. MCPSS also identified four additional schools the system “wanted to help out academically” that were also included in the March 29 plan. Of those facilities, all reported at least 87 percent of their student population as qualifying for free or reduced lunch programs.
The proposal to reclassify Denton was first brought up as a possibility in January to some controversy as it suggested in open meetings that the board’s decision to re-purpose MCPSS facilities in recent years have disproportionately affected black students. The ALSDE cites Denton’s student population as “100 percent black.”
Tuesday’s 3-1 vote means Denton Magnet School of Technology will replace the traditional middle school by the 2016-17 school year and officials say that should help address the 1,900 students currently on the waiting list to get into a magnet program.
According to a press release from the system, Denton will prepare students in grades 6-8 to meet the challenges of the 21st century by using a technology-driven curriculum that focuses on “communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.”
“We are excited to offer this cutting-edge technology-driven program at Denton,” MCPSS Chief Academic Officer Karen Mohr said. “We’ve found that technology use in schools increases student engagement and motivation, and prepares our students for college and career.”
Under the new plan, Denton will use the same Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept used at other schools, which allows students to bring laptops, tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices from home.
“Administrators, teachers and students will use technology to drive instruction and learning,” Mohr added. “One unique feature of the school is that students will collaboratively complete grade-level projects to demonstrate mastery of content and technology skills.”
The student population will be selected by the same lottery process used at other magnet programs, and applications to the new Denton will be available beginning April 8 at mcpss.com.
As for the 550 students currently enrolled at Denton, they’ll be transferred to nearby facilities like Burns Middle School, CL Scarborough Middle School and others that have yet to be identified by MCPSS. They will be able to enter the lottery for the Denton magnet program as well.
Another facility seeing dramatic changes in the school improvement plan is Scarborough Middle School, which only saw 9 percent of students meet statewide benchmarks in reading and math last year — the lowest in the system except for the 8 percent recorded at Mobile County Training Center.
As part of the school improvement plan, Scarborough will undergo a conversion into a model middle school through a process formally called reconstitution. That means the entire school staff will be reconfigured from the ground up and possibly replaced. However, MCPSS did confirm that current teachers will be able to apply to keep their current positions.
The system has reconstituted facilities in past, including four during the No Child Left Behind era in the early 2000s. One of those was George Hall Elementary School, which at the time was ranked among the lowest schools in the state. Since its reconstitution, the school has received multiple Torchbearer awards and has been named a National Title I Distinguished School.
MCPSS Director of Communication Rena Phillips said, in addition to changing the staff up, Scarborough will also be adding 16 additional teachers and offering financial incentives for those applying to positions in math and science.
“Those are usually high demand and harder-to-fill positions,” Philips added. “We also want to offer more programs and social services, as well as more elective classes at Scarborough.”
Another item approved on Tuesday will revert back to a previous plan to house students in grades K-8 at the $14 million Fournier-Chastang School in Trinity Gardens that is currently under construction.Earlier this year, the board considered enrolling only middle school students at the new location and busing students from Brazier Elementary School to near-by Ella Grant Elementary School in Prichard.
That plan was criticized at the time, but Philips confirmed that with the decision to house elementary students at Fournier-Chastang, Brazier is expected to close permanently by the 2017-18 School year.
The school improvement plan will also allocate additional funding and resources to each of the 16 schools. Additional teachers and student programming will be added to at least some of those locations as well.
The $2.5 million price tag was passed by the board as a “not to exceed” figure, which means the entire process could possibly be less expensive. Based on brief financial breakdown included with the agenda packet, the reconstitution at Scarborough will be the most costly endeavor coming in at around $1,043,744.
MCPSS superintendent Martha Peek was not immediately available to comment on this report.
Updated on March 30 to correct typographical errors
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