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University Park Campus School, Worcester, Massachusetts
U.S. Department of Education releases non-regulatory guidance on "Improving Teacher Quality State Grants;" OII launches new homepage index and supplemental educational services webpage; free educational resources available on the web; and evaluation of AUSL shows its second-year teachers help improve student test scores.
Innovations in the News
Eighty-five percent of Tennessee schools met Adequate Yearly Progress, plus information on charter schools, choice, and teacher quality.
University Park Campus School Revitalizes a Neighborhood and Its Children
In Worcester, the second largest city in Massachusetts, 44 neighborhood seventh graders have been going to school each weekday morning since the beginning of August. Unlike most children their age, they do not begrudge the extra class time cutting into their summer vacation. Instead, the children and their families are ecstatic to be given the chance to attend University Park Campus School and the chance for a possible full college scholarship if they achieve to high standards in high school.
Over a decade ago, Clark University realized that if the city around the campus continued on its track of economic and social decline, parents would hesitate to send their children to college there. As a result, the university participated in a series of renovations as a member of the University Park Partnership, a consortium of neighborhood residents, businesses, government agencies, churches, and the public schools which was created to combat the deterioration of the neighborhood. A few years later, the president of the university moved into one of the renovated houses a couple of blocks away from the campus, and with financial incentives, some faculty followed suit. Although the area had become less dangerous, it still lacked one important thing: a high-performing public school for local children.
University Park Campus School was developed by Clark University and the Worcester Public School District to be a public school of choice that would admit neighborhood students regardless of their academic standing. Applicants are admitted by lottery but, before they apply, they must accompany their parents to an informational meeting where they are told about the academic rigor of the school and the minimum of two hours of homework each night.
Seventy-eight percent of University Park students speak English as a second language, with Spanish, Albanian, Vietnamese, or Cambodian as their first language. This percentage is much higher than that of the district (36 percent) or of the state (14 percent). Seventy-three percent of University Park students qualify for free or reduced-price meals (compared to 30 percent in the state), and many of these students are those who had "slipped through the cracks" in their elementary schools. About 39 percent of the students are white; 34 percent are Hispanic; 18 percent are Asian; and 9 percent are African American.
When University Park opened the doors to its first class of seventh-graders in 1997, the school started the year with an "August Academy" to assess the incoming students' proficiency levels in reading, math, and English, and their social skills. The teachers found that one-half of the 35 students were reading at a third-grade level, and four of them could not read at all. Two years later, when the students started ninth grade, all of them were following an honors-level curriculum. The following year, on their initial attempt, all students passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Exam (MCAS), a test in reading and mathematics required for graduation in Massachusetts.
June Eressy was the founding English teacher at the school. A seventh and eighth grade English/Language Arts teacher, she started teaching her students using picture books to "spark initial literary dialogue," since many of the students had such low literacy skills. As the year progressed, her students enthusiastically participated in literature circles and peer editing projects. Over the years, she has promoted writing and reading across the curriculum and has hosted a literary circle for parents.
University Park has added one grade each year for five years, and now has 220 students. In such a small school, teachers get to know their students. Between bag lunches and microwavable meals, during the short lunch period, teachers can interact informally with students. The small number of students enables teachers to ensure that each one is being coached to excel and reach his or her maximum potential throughout the academic year. University Park's teachers believe that all students can learn and are capable of high achievement. Teachers also put in many extra hours helping students in before- and after-school homework centers. One hundred percent of the teachers are licensed in the subjects they teach, and 93 percent of the core academic teachers are identified as "highly qualified."
University Park's core curriculum requires students to be diligent about their studies. All classes taught at the ninth grade level and above are either at an honors or Advanced Placement level. Math, science, English, and history are required each year, and students also must take three years of Spanish. Classes are 60 minutes and 90 minutes (for the classes that prepare students for the MCAS exams). Art, music, and physical education specialists take over classes on Wednesday mornings, and the core teachers use that time to discuss their students' progress. According to the school's leadership, this common planning time is an essential ingredient to the success of the model.
The school also has a support system in place so that students have the resources necessary to meet the school's high expectations. Students are allowed to rewrite their essays as many times as necessary in order to receive satisfactory grades. Teachers believe this instructional strategy improves students' writing skills and maintains their interest and enthusiasm for the subject. Teachers keep parents informed about expectations and encourage them to send their children to University Park's before- or after-school homework help sessions.
The strong commitment to academics pays off. In 2004, all University Park tenth grade students passed the English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS, with 85 percent scoring proficient and advanced, with no one failing. On the math MCAS, 88 percent of tenth graders scored proficient and advanced, with no one failing. Students' scores in both subject areas of the MCAS have consistently qualified the school as one of the top 10 percent of schools in the state, and the school was recently named the top-performing urban high school in Massachusetts.
Not only is the entire tenth grade class doing well on standardized tests, but University Park is succeeding also in closing the achievement gap for Hispanic students. In 2003, 100 percent of the tenth grade Hispanic students met or exceeded the state standards in English language arts, and, in math, 93 percent of tenth grade Hispanic students met or exceeded state standards on the MCAS.
University Park does not expect students' learning to end with high school. All the members of its first two graduating classes went on to college, and 80 percent of them went to four-year institutions. There is a strong emphasis, starting in seventh grade, on going to college. Clark University maintains a close partnership with University Park, providing the school with student teachers and university resources, such as the libraries and gymnasiums. In addition, students are encouraged to enroll in classes at Clark University during their junior and senior years. To be eligible for these classes, students must have an honor roll average and must be academically mature enough to be enrolled as a regular college student. Students who complete these courses receive college credit, and, when they graduate from high school, they can enter college with advanced standing. The strongest incentive to do well is the waiver of tuition at Clark University for those University Park graduates who are admitted to the university through its regular application process.
University Park is not just a place where academics flourish; the school is just as proud of its "social curriculum." The school's expectations for student behavior, and the students' expectations for each other, are high. Students and staff are expected to model behavior and respect; community service is part of the special Wednesday schedule; and older students often work with seventh-graders who appear to be having trouble adjusting.
In 2001, founding teacher June Eressy received a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award for her "expert instruction and high expectation," and in 2003, she was appointed principal of the school. Called upon often to share her experience and expertise, Ms. Eressy presented the school's college preparatory program to the College Board in February of this year.
University Park's reputation for successful student achievement has grown so that now the school, along with Clark University and Jobs for the Future, co-sponsors a professional development institute for school teams from early college high schools across the country. At the institute, University Park teachers share their "strategies for student success" with the teams, which include the school leader and the lead teachers responsible for designing middle school and high school curricula from each participating school. The institute can be considered an "apprenticeship for excellence" because participants observe the University Park teachers in action during the August Academy. The last day of the institute is devoted to "Planning Your Own Exemplary School" so that the school team members can work together to apply what they have learned to their particular school setting. The institute also includes an intensive follow-up program of individual consultation, an online forum, and residencies at University Park Campus School during the school year.
University Park Campus School is a school of choice in the Worcester Public School system. It is a partner in The Education Alliance at Brown University, where the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory, one of 10 regional laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is a content provider. The University Park before- and after-school homework centers are funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to Massachusetts from the U.S. Department of Education.
Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative and has a history of results; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.
From the U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education has released a revised version of the Highly Qualified Teachers: Improving Teacher Quality State Grants Non-Regulatory Guidance MS Word (1.17M) The new guidance introduces new questions and expands upon others in the January 2004 version. For example, five new questions are included in the guidance under "Section H—Private School Participation." Under Title II, Part A, private school teachers are eligible to receive professional development benefits and services. (August 3)
From the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII)
OII has revamped the index to its homepage (the links in the black "bubble" at the top of the page). The Education Innovator can be found under "News," and links to new "Publications" and "Supplemental Services" pages have been added. The new Supplemental Services page includes links to service providers, state contacts, and resources, in addition to "supplemental educational services" in the No Child Left Behind Act. (August 15)
With many schools opening this month, teachers are referred to free resources with lesson plans and ideas for enriching content in core academic subjects. Two such resources are: 1) The Library of Congress and 2) FREE, the Federal Resources for Educational Excellence website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, which includes information from across 30 federal government agencies. Another free resource is the Helpforschools' "Education on the Web" site with links to over 3,000 sites in more than 500 categories to help teachers and administrators. Helpforschools.com is a project of the U.S. Department of Education-funded Region VII Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma. (August 10)
The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) (see Innovator, May 23, 2005) conducted an evaluation of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) scores of students taught by AUSL second-year teachers in under-performing Chicago Public Schools. On the May 2005 ITBS, about 30 percent of the students taught by AUSL second-year teachers were at or above national norms, up from about 24 percent in 2004. This gain is greater than that of students taught by non-AUSL counterparts in the same schools and at the same grade levels. (August 9)
Innovations in the News
Adequate Yearly Progress
Tennessee schools have been working hard to bring up their test scores as evidence of student achievement. Statewide, 85 percent of Tennessee schools met the No Child Left Behind benchmarks for Adequate Yearly Progress. In 2003, 47 percent of the state's schools were on a "target" or "high priority" list. [More-Leaf Chronicle] (August 4)
According to recent data, only three schools in the Richmond School District (IN) made Adequate Yearly Progress, a requirement of No Child Left Behind. As a result, Richmond High School started reaching out to failing students through summer school and mailings with tips on how to succeed in school. Five hundred and ten students completed summer school, and 90 percent of the students were able to meet academic goals that they previously were unable to meet during the school year. [More-Palladium-Item] (August 9)
In Chatham County (NC), 11 of the 15 high schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The superintendent commended all the schools in the district for their diligence in working with students throughout the school year. To meet the AYP standards, the administrators and teachers have "found innovative ways of helping" students, such as the countywide Saturday Academy for third, fifth, and eighth graders. [More-Chatham Journal] (July 22)
In Albuquerque (NM), West Mesa and Rio Grande, two high schools on the "in need of improvement" list will offer students the option of transferring to charter schools. Mileage reimbursement from Title I funds will be available for students so they can get to these schools. The Albuquerque Board of Education Strategic Action Committee has been working on improving the relationship between charter schools and Albuquerque Public Schools. School administrators and representatives of charter schools have met to discuss how they can help each other and improve communication. [More-Albuquerque Tribune] (August 9)
An OII Charter School Program grant was awarded to a proposed charter middle school for grades five through eight in Charlottesville (VA) that will have an arts-infused curriculum. The school is scheduled to open in 2006 with a parent board, two-hour tutorials in core subjects each morning, and a focus on using the arts to help at-risk students. [More-Daily Progress] (August 3)
Competition among schools is changing the focus of some traditional public schools. Cartwright Elementary School in Phoenix (AZ) lost 1,200 students to area charter and private schools. The school has instituted the back-to-basics Pride Program of challenging courses in reading, writing, and arithmetic to draw students to the school. [More-PHXnews] (August 5)
Schools in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and other Florida cities and towns are welcoming students who have chosen to attend their schools. One parent chose his child's school because the family lives across the street and two family members work at the school. Another mother chose her daughter's school because her daughter would have the same teacher who had taught her when she was a girl. [More-News-Press] (August 5)
Kathleen Quick joined top educators from across the nation to share ideas for raising student achievement during the Teacher-to-Teacher Summer Workshops sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in six locations across the nation. Workshop sessions covered reading, mathematics, science, history, and the arts, and experts spoke about strategies for teaching students with special needs. [More-Citizen News] (August 10)