OGDEN -- Five schools in the Ogden School District are using approximately $7 million in federal grants to help bring them up to a higher level and keep them out of danger of being shut down because of poor performance.
Dee, Madison and Odyssey elementary schools are in the second year of a three-year, $5 million School Improvement Grant. Ogden and Washington high schools are in the first year of a three-year, approximately $2 million similar federal grant to assist struggling schools, said Greg Lewis, the district's director of Elementary Education and Testing.
Most Ogden District schools last year did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind program. The entire district was placed in a school improvement category by the state because of its AYP scores.
The five schools that got grants qualified because they have struggled to meet AYP for a longer period. Lewis said those schools are not necessarily in danger of being shut down, but it is something the state Legislature can always threaten.
"They could do it to make an example, but the State Office of Education has been very supportive," Lewis said.
The district has been trying to improve by using measures the state would implement if schools were to be closed down. For example, when the elementary schools received the grant, all the principals were changed and drastic changes have occurred in the schools, such as longer school days, less recess and more collaboration and data-based teaching.
Dee Principal Sondra Jolovich Motes said the improvement in the school has been amazing, with dramatically higher AYP scores. Last year, the only category the school didn't pass was special education, and scores in every other area of testing improved.
Attendance also has improved. Motes thinks a lot of that has to do with the data teachers and administrators use to track students and progress.
"Our teachers have become data-savvy," Motes said.
The grant pays to have more licensed teachers on staff, so class sizes have been reduced. Students are able to work in small groups because of the increased teacher presence.
The school now has a specialist who focuses on parent communication. Special folders are sent home to parents, keeping the lines of communication open.
Motes said the three grant-school principals meet regularly and are adopting common practices, which is helpful because the schools have a high rate of student turnover, with some students rotating among the schools.
Motes said she doesn't spend her time looking over her shoulder to see if the state wants to shut down her school. She said the staff looks ahead.
"We focus on what is happening here and the good and positive things. We are in a higher place than we have been before," she said.
Sandy Coroles, the executive director of federal programs and curriculum for the district, has been working closely with Ogden and Washington high schools in administering their grants. One of the big goals is providing teacher incentives, including extra cash if the schools meet AYP this year.
It is more difficult to track subjects in high school because there are so many varied subjects, Coroles said. This year the schools are focusing on incentive pay for passing AYP scores and will look at other incentives next year.
If students aren't at school regularly, attendance trackers go to their homes to see why they are absent. Students get positive reinforcement, including hourlong lunches and other prizes, when they attend and get good grades. Coroles said they are also very data-driven in the high schools.
"We are absolutely starting to talk about student data," Coroles said.
All the grant schools except Madison also participate in a University of Virginia program that helps students make progress.
Lewis said all schools in the district are cracking down. Elementary principals have met and discussed things necessary to help students achieve, such as possibly cutting recess to provide more class time. That decision falls under the superintendent's request for schools to quit doing at least three things that don't contribute to learning.
Coroles feels encouraged by the progress students are making. While the five schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, she thinks that in the next three years they will be able to function successfully without the grant money, because the habits of attendance and high teacher performance will be in place. She said the district is also working on an incentive-pay program for teachers that should be in place by then.