Turnaround schools — keeping them pointed in the right direction

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Jan16cover500-550f74b9I had the opportunity recently to write in Delaware Today magazine about two troubled schools that have, under dynamic new leaders, managed to turn themselves around. Booker T. Washington Elementary in Dover, under Principal Dale Brown, and East Side Charter in Wilmington, under Executive Director Lamont Browne, have achieved success for several reasons. At both schools, the leadership team and staff are working together, sharing the same goals and carefully monitoring student progress, not waiting to see how they perform on state tests at the end of the school year. Parents have bought into the programs too, creating genuine partnerships between home and school.

Before the new leaders arrived, the schools, both with high percentages of minority students from low-income families, were in dangerous territory. Booker T. Washington had been labeled a “priority school,” a designation given by the State Department of Education to schools whose students were performing well below desired levels, and East Side was threatened with losing its charter — which would have meant closing the school and returning its students to the traditional public schools they had previously attended.

Now both schools face the challenge of sustaining the progress they have achieved. At Booker T. Washington, the principal is worried because, with the expiration of funds through the federal Race to the Top grant, he no longer has the money to run a voluntary four-day-a-week after-school program that gave his students the equivalent of two extra class periods a day and was so popular that almost every student attended regularly.

The  state’s antiquated funding system offers no help because it makes no special allowances for schools with high percentages of minority and low-income students. Interestingly, a group of lawmakers did propose last week spending $10 million for programs statewide that would look quite a bit like the one at Booker T. Washington. The lawmakers haven’t said where the $10 million would come from, so that’s a problem, but it’s good to see there is recognition that it takes both strong leaders and supplemental resources for once-struggling schools to sustain their newfound success.

While we can hope that Booker T. Washington and East Side continue to move ahead, the state would be wise to provide additional resources  to ensure that the progress continues. It would be a prudent investment in Delaware’s future.

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