Clifton one of first 11 in line for reform cash

Elementary school tries for grant aimed at boosting low test scores

Clifton Elementary is one of 11 Colorado schools eligible for first dibs on part of $39.7 million worth of a federal school-improvement grant to improve consistently low test scores.

Getting a federal school-improvement grant requires most school districts to fire the school’s principal, hand the school over to a charter institution or close it. School District 51 chose an option that would have required the removal of a school principal in most cases, but the school gets to keep Principal Michelle Mansheim because she’s new to the position, according to Leslie Whitacre, District 51 assistant executive director of elementary schools.

In order to receive funding, each of the 11 schools has to submit a proposal to the Colorado Department of Education by April 21 explaining how the school will turn around test scores with intervention plans. Each school can choose one of four interventions, which include:

The turnaround model: The school district replaces the school’s principal and does not renew contracts for half or more of the people that work at the school.

The transformation model: The school district replaces the school’s principal (in most cases), extends the school day, takes a closer look at evaluating and developing quality employees, offers a higher level of support to the school and works on drastically reforming the school.

The restart model: The school district converts the school into a charter school and gives control of the school to a charter school organization.

The fourth option is to close the school.

Whitacre said District 51 and Clifton Elementary leaders are opting for the transformation model. Whitacre said the district will not say how much money they are requesting to help implement the model until early May, when Department of Education Commissioner Dwight Jones is expected to announce how much each applicant will get.

Whitacre said Jones visited Clifton Elementary last fall and asked the school if it would like to be considered for Tier I reform money. The district agreed and told teachers if they weren’t comfortable spending extra time on reform, the district would move them to other schools.

A handful of teachers opted to move, Whitacre said. The rest will attend reform training late this summer before the start of school in August, and the district will send Clifton’s principal and assistant principal to leadership training this summer. Grant money, which Whitacre expects to arrive by the end of next month, will be used to pay teachers and school leaders for attending training.

Clifton is the only school on the Western Slope eligible to receive Tier I funding from the Title I School Improvement Grant program. Tier I schools had Colorado Student Assessment Plan test scores between 2007 and 2009 that ranked in the bottom 5 percent for all public schools in the state that have already been told to improve scores and are receiving Title I funding. Title I schools receive federal funding because two-fifths or more of their student population qualifies for free and reduced meals.

The Colorado Department of Education plans to split the $39.7 million award between 15 to 20 schools, according to a news release from the department.


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