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Making AYP: Bemidji School Board discusses next steps

The list of schools meeting Adequate Yearly Progress has been widely publicized since it was released last week - seven schools in the Bemidji School District made the list, seven schools did not.

Kathy Palm, Bemidji Area Schools director of curriculum and administrative services, said putting the list out there is a good thing - "What we pay attention to, we can improve."

Palm reported the results of the Adequate Yearly Progress during the Bemidji School Board meeting Monday night in the Bemidji High School Media Center.

"Instead of hiding the list of schools that did not make AYP, we use it to our advantage," said Palm.

Making AYP in all areas are Bemidji High School, Bemidji Middle School Alternative Learning Program, Bemidji Youth Learning and Working, and Central, Horace May, Northern and Solway elementary schools.

Title I, Bemidji Alternative Education Center, Bemidji Middle School, First City School Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center and J.W. Smith and Lincoln elementary schools failed to make AYP in one or more areas.

"We take AYP very seriously," said Palm. "We are very proud of the schools that made AYP and we look to improve the ones that did not."

Each state has developed ways for determining whether its schools are making AYP under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2002.

NCLB requires 95 percent student participation in testing; 100 percent proficiency in mathematics and reading by all students by 2014, with improvement each year; 90 percent attendance; and 80 percent graduation rate.

According to Palm, it is a big deal for schools to be removed from the list.

"We are proud of schools like Bemidji High School and Northern Elementary, which were on the list last year but made AYP this year," said Palm.

Bemidji Middle School has not made AYP for four years in special education reading proficiency. Also, it has not made AYP in math proficiency in all areas.

On Monday, the School Board approved the hiring of a full-time math teacher who will be responsible for the seventh- and eighth-grade middle school alternative learning program.

"In some cases, one or two students would have made the list," said Superintendent Jim Hess. "Every chance we can get to work with a student who is not as proficient in the areas of AYP, we need to take advantage of."

According to Palm, the biggest deal with AYP is Title 1 schools. "This is where the NCLB sinks its teeth," said Palm.

Because the district is a Title 1 district, it will need to continue to do an improvement plan every year. The district also has to set aside 10 percent of its funding for staff development training, Palm said at Monday's School Board meeting.

Title 1 schools J.W. Smith and Lincoln elementary schools have stricter consequences because they receive Title 1 funding.

"The first year of not meeting AYP is announced publicly," said Palm. "If these schools do not make AYP next year, the schools will have to send letters to its families informing them they can choose to send their kids to a different school."

This year because the Alternative Education Center did not have enough students test in math, it failed to make AYP.

Tami Wesely, new principal of Bemidji Alternative Schools, says alternative education is a unique situation that NCLB and AYP does not account for.

"It is not uncommon in the First City School to have kids only come to school for one day because they are court ordered to be at a different facility," said Wesely.

"Not that alternative education should be exempt from regulations, but there needs to be some revision to the requirements," said Wesely.

Palm is confident the underachieving schools are on the right track to making AYP next year, but it will be a long shot to attain 100 percent of the district's students proficient in all areas by 2014.

"We are progressing and we are improving," said Palm. "However, 100 percent in 2014 is quite challenging. It would be awesome; we have our doubts if we'll get there."