Mountain View Middle School parents weigh in — Bremerton’s only middle school readies for change after years of low test scores

Tyler Callaghan and Jacob Wholaver, both in sixth grade, wait outside Mountain View Middle School in Bremerton Tuesday.  - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Tyler Callaghan and Jacob Wholaver, both in sixth grade, wait outside Mountain View Middle School in Bremerton Tuesday.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Ivaly Alexander is satisfied with the teachers who spend their days with her seventh-grader at Mountain View Middle School, but that isn’t to say she is happy with things as they are.

“It shouldn’t take a poor range in testing to get parents re-involved in the process. Unfortunately, that is where we are,” Alexander said.

After the Bremerton School District’s only middle school failed for seven years in a row to meet state minimums for reading and math – this year’s test results won’t be available until August – the district is being forced to draft a restructuring plan that must be submitted to the state by July 1. A district spokeswoman said the district doesn’t have immediate plans to let go of teachers or administrators because of the restructuring, and Alexander, who is co-secretary of the PTA, doesn’t blame the teachers.

But to ensure that test scores improve, Alexander and other parents said better and more consistent communication between teachers and parents and allowing more class time for math instruction is vital.

“They are working their tails off and it’s a big school,” Alexander said.

The district was notified by the state at the start of the school year that Mountain View had failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for the seventh consecutive school year. Adequate Yearly Progress is the state’s system to measure schools and districts’ achievement in math and reading as required by federal law through the No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001.

District superintendent Lester “Flip” Herndon said that seeing better student achievement is the ultimate goal.

“We are currently making progress in most academic areas, but just not fast enough for the federal government,” Herndon said in an email.

Carrie Bassett has a daughter in the seventh grade at Mountain View and said that even though she frequently stays after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays to receive extra math-help, the subject continues to be a challenge for her.

“I was on the fence of pulling my child. If they’re not going to give the school the tools they need, it’s not helping anybody,” Bassett said about teachers having to instruct a set curriculum in less time than it was designed for.

However, Bassett’s initial instinct to send her daughter to another school has changed. She thinks there is a potential for improvement — so long as parents and the community come together.

Though the restructuring plan has not been finalized, district spokeswoman Patty Glaser said that instruction time for the core classes including math, will increase and that “block scheduling” would be created to have math and science taught back-to-back with the same concept applied to language arts and social studies classes.

Luke Grunberg, a seventh grade math teacher at Mountain View, agrees that because of time constraints, teachers are not able to complete all the activities they would like in the classroom.

“We don’t have that next 20 to 30 minutes to do a game or take it to the next level,” which solidifies the learning for the student, he said.

As for the block scheduling, Grunberg said that the math department plans to work with the science department to align instruction so that students can apply what they learn in one class to the next class.

“It’s extended practice. If I teach mean, medium, mode, and that same day or week they are doing that same thing in science, it’s more time, more practice,” Grunberg said.

Aside from aspects of the curriculum that are being addressed in the restructuring plan, the district will include increasing parent involvement, creating a standard for how students’ progress will be communicated or presented to families and improving interventions for students.

Jonee Dubos has one son in the sixth grade and another in the seventh grade. An older daughter at Bremerton High School in the honors program also attended Mountain View for middle school. Dubos feels like “the education is there” at Mountain View but improvements could be made in reaching out and communicating with families. Skyward Family Access is a district-wide program teachers can use to post materials such as class syllabi and send emails to parents, but Dubos said about half of her sons’ teachers use it.

“Parents are encouraging some sort of consistency,” Dubos said, adding that some parents may not know how to seek help for their children.

Grunberg said that consistency needs to be developed in terms of both communicating with families as well as in classroom procedures. Creating norms will help build a positive environment, he said.

“It can only be successful if we all hop on and use it the same way,” Grunberg said.

For the 2009-2010 school year, Mountain View did not meet six of 33 Adequate Yearly Progress requirements — depending on the school makeup, some schools could have a total of 37 requirements. Other than overall math scores, the areas in which Mountain View failed to meet requirements included state test scores in reading for African American students, and both reading and math scores for low-income and special education students. Current enrollment at the sixth through eighth grade middle school is 950 students.

Linda Simpson has two children with autism at Mountain View and said she feels they are receiving sufficient attention and support from teachers. She is satisfied with what the teachers provide students but thinks the administration needs to see their point of view, giving an example of how a math teacher’s request to have less students in her class took six months to come about.

After being notified in the fall of the failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress again, the school entered step 4 of improvement which includes creating a restructuring plan. The plan will be submitted to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction by July 1 as part of the federal improvement process. The improvement process is made up of a total of 5 steps. If the school continues to not meet testing requirements, it will remain in step 5 of improvement.

Last year, 968 schools failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress out of a total of 2,200 schools, said Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. And even if their scores improve from the previous year, they still remain in the improvement process unless they meet requirements for all categories. Unless the current year’s test scores show marked improvement, Mountain View will enter next school year in step 5, and will remain there until requirements are met in all 33 categories.

In some cases, the changes made to bring schools up to standards are major shifts in daily life for students.

At Highline Public Schools, Cascade and Chinook middle schools went through restructuring programs where the principals at both schools were replaced. The changes were implemented this current school year after not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress for more than five years and being in step 5 of the improvement process.

At Cascade Middle School, the passing time between classes was shortened and the hallway lockers were removed to allow for more class instruction time, said Catherine Carbone Rogers, spokeswoman for Highline Public Schools.

“The changes that were implemented this last fall were more dramatic than anything we had done in those schools in the past,” Carbone Rogers said.

If Mountain View continues to not meet requirements after its restructuring plan has been implemented, the school may need to replace teachers, Olson said, adding that it would be a decision the district would make.

Glaser said that current restructuring plans do not call for replacing any teachers at Mountain View and there are no estimates for the cost of restructuring.

But even when restructuring is implemented, some parents still feel strongly that others need to get involved.

“All the restructuring in the world is not going to resolve a lack of parent partnership in our district,” Alexander said. “There’s no reason our community can’t be involved in the one middle school they have.”

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