Aug 22, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
The 2011 English Language Arts and mathematics proficiency results for grades three to eight were released last week, and it was downright bad news for Syracuse schools: results in both categories declined from already dismal numbers in the previous year.
In 2011, only 25.4 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 met or exceeded the proficiency standard in math. In ELA, 22.5 percent of students were proficient.
Students who meet or exceed proficiency standards in eighth grade are considered on track for passing high school regents exams.
Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras, who has only officially been on the job since July 1, called the results “a call to action.”
“Obviously, when I received the test scores I was extremely disappointed, on several levels,” Contreras said last week. “Most importantly, I was disappointed for the children, because 75 percent of our children not being proficient is unacceptable and points to those students not being prepared for life after high school.”
Contreras announced the district would embark on a 100-day plan to solicit feedback from parents, staff, political leaders, and community and business leaders.
“I think it’s important that our high schools begin to offer more career training for students, and we need our businesses to help with development of those programs by providing internships, providing training for teachers, and providing information for the students to know what to do to be successful,” Contreras said.
The plan would be followed by a second phase, what the district is calling a “strategic planning process,” beginning in January. The planning process would involve determining a set number of goals and priorities for the district, and developing action plans to realize those goals, Contreras said.
Her approach emphasizes heavy community involvement, something the most supportive members of the community have been advocating for years.
But how will Contreras be able to engage a population of parents, guardians and neighbors who have gone this long without getting involved?
“I think I am going to take advantage of being new in the community,” she said. “There have been so many individuals in higher education, university and college presidents, and Mayor Miner that have been very supportive, as well as the faith community and the executive directors of community-based organizations. I think we just have to take the time to come together and start trying to resolve the concerns.”
While the district has already embarked on the 100-day plan, Contreras is eager to share immediate changes to the curriculum that will begin this fall, including a “better focus” on professional development and implementing new standards throughout the district.
Contreras said the district will roll out the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous initiative already in use in 46 states. Although New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, Contreras said they had not been implemented at SCSD.
The 2011-12 academic calendar also reduces the number of half days from 10 or 11 to only four, said Contreras.
“Students are in school more,” she said simply. “The teachers let me know those days are unproductive teaching days, and some students don’t attend and they rush through classes, so I reduce those to the days we have parent-teacher conferences.”
Contreras said the half-days were scheduled previously because it was the only way the district could provide professional development to the teachers, and she is looking at ways of providing better opportunities for development that would not take away from classroom time for students.
But outside of the school buildings, Syracuse youth are facing another obstacle, and Contreras sees ties between youth violence and the role of education.
“It is frightening to see there are children that don’t value their own lives, or the lives of others, and for me it’s a reminder that we have to do a better job at educating these students so that they believe they have a future and are not prone to violent acts,” she said.