June 27, 2012WHITEFIELD — The professional community of the White Mountain Regional School District (WMRSD) — teachers, administrators, and staff — is suffused with a deep feeling of relief, satisfaction, and pride.
The seven-member state Board of Education (NHBOE) voted 3 to 2 on Wednesday to grant an appeal by the Whitefield School (WES) to no longer be deemed a School in Need of Improvement (SINI), voting that it had made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) in both reading and math.
The board also voted 3 to 2 to grant an appeal by the Lancaster School (LES) it made AYP in math. LES did not appeal not making AYP in reading and remains on the SINI reading list.
Only five members of the NHBOE voted. One member of the NHBOE was absent, and new member Greg Odell of Dalton who is chairman of the WMRSD school board offered to recuse himself, an offer that the board ultimately agreed to accept.
The state Commissioner of Education had turned down the District's earlier appeal, and the NHBOE was acting as a final "court of appeals."
Dr. Melissa Keenan, WMRSD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, made the 10-minute presentations allowed for each appeal, and then answered questions for five minutes on the complex data that she and a team of on-staff District experts had prepared since the results of the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) were announced in January and AYP results in April.
Keenan made several powerful arguments: that WMRSD has worked incredibly hard to develop powerful improvement plans; that the detailed data indicates it has made significant improvements; that the District has made AYP in all required areas, in both reading, and math, only just missing it in the Educational Disability (special education) subgroup at LES and WES; and, furthermore, that the District has absolutely no intention of giving up but pledges to continue to work hard to provide continued support to all of its students.
"These appeals were done on behalf of the LES and WES teachers, staff, students, parents, and administrators who have worked so hard to improve student achievement," Keenan explained. "The team also felt it was important for the State Board to see firsthand the complexities of this change process and that making — or not making — AYP is not as simple as achieving a certain index score."
SAU #36 Interim Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom was, of course, on hand. WES principal Mike Cronin, outgoing LES principal Pat McLean, soon-to-be principal Todd Lamarque, and soon-to-be assistant principal Rob Scott were all present, Keenan said. Other key players who would have liked to be there had prior commitments, including Director of Student Services Marie Fay was scheduled to attend a training that's been on her calendar for months.
"Nonetheless," Keenan said, "it was a great support network, and afterwards we enjoyed a lovely lunch (at our own individual expense) at the Common Man to celebrate."
The bottom-line result is that WES is no longer a SINI for either math or reading and has been officially removed from the SINI list; LES is a SINI for reading only and has been removed from the SINI list for math.
In April, when each school's AYP status was announced, WMRHS was removed from the SINI list because it made AYP in math and reading two years in a row across all subgroups.
The District was removed from the DINI (District in Need of Improvement) status at the same time.
"Last year (2010-2011) we were one of two districts out of 85 DINIs that made AYP in all of our buildings, both reading and math and across all subgroups," Keenan reminded. "In April this year (2011-2012) WMRHS was one of five schools in the state to be removed from the SINI list, and the District was one of only two districts to be removed from the DINI list.
With its small cohort of subgroup students, the Jefferson School has never been a SINI.
This is all good news to students at both large elementary schools.
"I'm confident both LES and WES will share this good news with their families and students," Keenan said. "The students were clearly very vested in this process, and many worked incredibly hard to make this happen. Despite these successes, however, we will continue to develop District and school plans to further refine what we are doing to support all of students as we move into the 2012-2013 school year."
In addition, Lamarque and Cronin, next year's full-time elementary school principals, must be greatly relieved to have this off their plate because it would have required a significant amount of time and resources to address Corrective Action in reading and math at WES and Restructuring in math at LES, Keenan explained.
"There is a similar impact at the District level — planning, preparing for, managing, and monitoring the improvement plans which require a great deal of time and resources to do well, including keeping track of the finances of these plans to ensure the building-level activities are consistent with the submitted plans. Keenan praised the WES and LES administrators who worked very, very hard throughout this process, along with the math and reading specialists at both schools. "These key players put in lots of extra time to help prepare the two schools' appeals," she said.
The NHBOE meeting itself was packed with drama. After presenting the WMRSD appeal for the Lancaster School, the NHDOE initially denied it, Keenan explained. Then after presenting WES' appeal, one of the board members requested to rescind her earlier vote on LES because she explained that she had gained a far better understanding not only of what the District had accomplished but also its individual schools.
"It was challenging to present WES' appeal after LES' initial denial, and then a bit tense as we watched the board reconsider and then vote in favor of both our appeals," said the soft-spoken assistant superintendent. "I wanted to jump up and down, but I restrained myself!"
Fensom marveled at Keenan's professional performance. In an e-mail exchange, the superintendent commented, "My colleague did an outstanding job of presenting the District's case under difficult circumstances; she truly displayed grace under pressure!"
Keenan, however, has already begun to look at the District in a larger context.
"All of our schools have demonstrated gains and for the most part have met all of the AYP requirements, such as participation, performance, attendance, graduation rate, but we can't let its guard down because the numbers could change from year to year and the bar keeps getting set higher," she pointed out. "The subgroup requirement of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is a good thing because it forces us to take a closer look at whether we are moving more students towards proficiency, no matter the size of the group."