Drastic changes coming to Mesa's Carson Junior High - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Drastic changes coming to Mesa's Carson Junior High

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Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011 1:55 pm

Carson Junior High School sits in a corner of an aging northwest Mesa community. Enrollment has dropped continually over the past few years, as it has across many Mesa schools.

More than 80 percent of the school's 800 students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. In the diverse population, about 60 percent of the students come from families where English is the primary language.

Arizona lists Carson as a "performing" school. But Carson - according to the federal government - is failing, and has been for more than half a decade.

With AIMS scores failing to improve, the district is required to make drastic changes at the low-income Title I school.

So earlier this year, Mesa leadership sought a "turnaround" principal for the school, and next week, all certificated staff - teachers, counselors, administrators - must re-interview for their jobs.

"Staff at the school have known for years that Carson is in a failing status and this year, they knew changing the staff was an option outlined by the state," said Kathy Bareiss, spokeswoman for the Mesa Unified School District.

The federal law, known as the No Child Left Behind Act, requires states to dictate steps schools must take if they end up in "corrective action," a label slapped on when test scores fail to improve for any one group of students. Test results are examined for each ethnic group, for special education students, for students in low socio-economic situations, for entire grade levels, for English language learners and more.

Last year's AIMS scores rank Carson among the lowest junior highs in Mesa. Seventy percent of seventh-graders and 60 percent of eighth-graders passed the reading portion. Fewer - 61 percent and 40 percent respectively - passed the writing portion.

Less than 50 percent of the students in both grades passed the math test.

For years, the district has been working to get Carson out of its "needs improvement" status - but it requires two years of adequate progress for that to happen. Even if intervention worked, and scores from AIMS tests taken earlier this month show improvement, the school would remain in corrective action next year.

In Carson's case, the federal warning came when test scores for English language learners failed to move forward. Most recently, test scores for the school's special education population came under scrutiny.

"Carson is in restructure implementation this year. Last year, they were in restructure planning. They're kind of the end of the labeling list," said district assistant superintendent Suzie DePrez.

So the next step, DePrez said, is "taking our cue from the federal guidance."

That means following the guidelines of creating a "turnaround school," DePrez said, which includes hiring new leadership - Ray Chavez starts as principal in July - and making staff changes.

To address the academic issues at Carson, consultants were brought in this year. Staff increased the school day and examined special education procedures and processes. The improvement plan includes parent education, common planning time for teachers and new teacher mentoring.

"We're trying to make sure we're doing the best for Carson," DePrez said.

Those changes are sparking excitement, said counselor Cliff Moon, who has been at Carson for two years.

"With Mr. Chavez coming and the newfound knowledge (from the consultants), we're just excited to create a school that we hope will be successful based upon the state and federal standards," Moon said. "We have lots of confidence going into the new year."

Carson is the only Mesa district school in restructure status. Last year, Powell Junior High School was in that situation. The school board closed Powell as it dealt with budget and enrollment issues.

Currently, there are nine Mesa district campuses in "school improvement," meaning one or more categories of students failed to improve test scores from one year to the next. Besides Carson, the others are Emerson and Hawthorne elementary schools and Brimhall, Kino, Mesa, Smith and Taylor junior highs. Fremont Junior High School is "frozen" in year one of school improvement, meaning it made necessary academic progress last year and can get out of "school improvement" status if test scores improve again.

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