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Parents at two failing Title I elementary schools in Harford County have a short window of time to decide whether to transfer their kids to different schools.

Meanwhile, school officials are trying to convince parents this transfer option may not be in their children’s best interests.

By failing to meet progress targets on the Maryland School Assessment, or MSA, for the second year in a row, William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon and Magnolia Elementary in Joppa, both Title I schools, are federally required to offer two transfer options.

Title I is a federally funded program targeting schools with a high percentage of students from low income families. Such schools typically have below average achievement rates.

Both William Paca/Old Post Road and Magnolia draw students from some of Harford County’s poorest neighborhoods in Edgewood. At William Paca/Old Post Road, 64.5 percent of 1,005 students enrolled qualify for free or reduced meals, or FARMS, under federal income guidelines; 83.6 of Magnolia’s 561 students qualify for FARMS.

In addition to low achievement levels, the two schools are beset with attendance problems.

County school officials said Monday that parents and guardians of students at the two schools most likely will not have access to their child’s individual math and reading MSA scores before the form of intent to transfer is due Aug. 13.

Tuesday afternoon, however, a school system spokesperson said parents will be able to receive the scores via telephone before the cutoff for transferring.

Parents were notified about the transfer option by a letter sent on July 22, and by AlertNow calls and information posted on the school system’s Web site.

Two options each

Transfer schools available for William Paca students are Deerfield Elementary in Edgewood or William S. James in Abingdon.

Transfer schools available for Magnolia students are Riverside Elementary or Joppatowne Elementary, both in Joppa.

About 150 parents and children attended Monday’s informational meeting about the transfer option at William Paca. A similar meeting was held Tuesday at Magnolia.

The MSA is a statewide test that requires students in grades three to eight to demonstrate their knowledge in reading and math.

Student scores are determined to be basic - below average, proficient or advanced. The goal of the federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation is for all students in Maryland to score either proficient or advanced by the 2013-14 school year.

If a Title I school fails to meet Annual Yearly Progress, or AYP, two years in a row, it placed on the Schools in Improvement list. The school must meet AYP two consecutive years in a row in order to be taken off of the list.

Transfer options for students are available only when a Title I school fails to meet AYP two years in a row.

But if a student transfers to another school, programs available at William Paca and Magnolia through Title I funding may not be available at the transfer school.

None of the four transfer options being offered are Title I schools; hence, parents were warned their children would not have access to certain intervention and nutrition programs they currently receive.

“Title I funds will not follow your children,” Allyn Watson, Title I supervisor for HCPS, said at Monday’s meeting at William Paca/Old Post Road. “This is all about the children and all about your choice in the best interest of your children. We would hope that you would elect to stay at William Paca because this school needs your support.”

William Paca Principal Gail Dunlap said there are certain programs available through Title I funding that other schools don’t have, which she used as a selling point to keep students at her school.

Parents blamed

She blamed low student performance on the parents, not on her staff or on how her students are being taught.

“It’s the same books, the same curriculum,” she said. “There is no difference in the program or the way it is taught. I need parents involved.”

Dunlap said Monday night’s meeting is the most parent involvement she has seen at William Paca.

“There are more parents here than I have seen at PTA meetings all year,” she said. “If you want to make a difference, it’s the parents. They [the students] are with you [the parents] a lot longer than they are with us.”

Once a parent makes the decision to transfer a student, the student must remain at the transfer school for the entire year.

A form to attend a transfer school also must be submitted each year. Parents, who do not opt to send their child to a transfer school this year, can still opt to do so in the 2011-12 school year.

Magnolia is the only Harford Title I school that has previously been required to offer a transfer option. According to school officials, 15 students transferred during the period 2005-08.

Title I program

Other than William Paca and Magnolia, Harford County has four other Title I elementary schools: Edgewood, Hall’s Cross Roads and George D. Lisby at Hillsdale, both in Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace.

Title 1 is a restricted program that targets resources to schools where 55 percent or more students are from low-income families, as measured by participation in the free or reduced lunch program.

Not only is William Paca/Old Post Road Harford’s largest Title I school, it is the largest Title I school in the state.

William Paca has a state rated capacity of 940 students and is operating at 107 percent capacity with 1,005 students, according to Maryland Report Card’s Web site,

The attendance area for William Paca falls between I-95 and Route 40 and between Bynum Run and Clayton Road in Joppa and dips below Route 40 to take in the communities of Long Bar Harbor, West Shore and Edgewater Village.

Magnolia has a state rated capacity of 499 students, and is operating at 112 percent capacity with 561 students, according to Maryland Report Card.

The attendance area for Magnolia runs from Hanson Road south to the Aberdeen Proving Ground boundary in Edgewood and from Route 24 in Edgewood into the east side of Joppatowne. It includes the Edgewood communities of Harford Square and Windsor Valley (Meadowood).

Special programs at William Paca and Magnolia made available through Title I funding include universal breakfast, healthy afternoon snacks, positive behavior intervention strategy, or PBIS, and special reading and math interventions.

“The funding we get through Title I allows children to have highly-qualified staff and extensive professional development,” Dunlap said.

Transfer schools

The superintendent is in charge of selecting the two transfer options for parents.

The transfer options may not be on the Schools in Improvement List and must feed into the same middle school as the Title I school. The school system is responsible for providing transportation for those who transfer. Students have the option to stay at the transfer school until they complete the fifth grade, but transportation will no longer be provided once their home school is off of the improvement list.

Deerfield Elementary will reopen in the fall in its new building that is located directly behind the old school. Deerfield has about 550 students, Principal Celeste Klima said at Monday’s meeting. She said the new building has a state rated capacity of 772 students. The school is projected to operate at about 71 percent capacity next year.

William S. James has a state rated capacity of 476 students and has 425 students, according to Principal Ray Schmalzer at Monday’s meeting. The school is operating at about 89 percent capacity.

Riverside has a state rated capacity of 522 students, and is operating at 93 percent capacity with about 484 students. Joppatowne has a state rated capacity of 653 students and is operating at 81 percent with about 528 students.

MSA data

For 2010, both William Paca and Magnolia failed to meet Annual Yearly Progress, or AYP, in the all students category, the African American subgroup, the FARMS subgroup and special education subgroup for reading.

Both schools also failed to meet AYP for math in the FARMS and special education subgroups.

In addition, William Paca failed to meet its progress target in reading for the white (not of Hispanic origin) subgroup.

This is the second year William Paca has failed to meet AYP in both reading and math in the FARMS and special education subgroups, and this is the second year Magnolia has failed to meet AYP for reading in the special education subgroup, landing both of the schools on the Schools in Improvement list.

In addition, Dunlap said 42 percent of William Paca students who did not score proficient or advanced in math or reading on the MSA also did not meet the attendance requirement.

“We can’t teach the children if they are not here,” she said. “My attendance begins to count in kindergarten. It is so important that the children are in school because if they aren’t in school they are unable to learn.”

Improvement process

With the School in Improvement process, William Paca and Magnolia will be implementing a 30-minute grade level intervention block during the school day.

William Paca currently offers an after-school intervention program for students who struggle in math and reading on the MSAs, but Dunlap said the program is poorly attended.

“We can’t make parents keep students after school,” she told the audience at Monday’s meeting.

Dunlap said she will be able to shave time off core classes to start giving intervention skill work during the day, beginning this fall.

“Any kid that didn’t pass or is not at grade level expectation will have 30 minutes of intervention,” she said.

For the rest of the students excelling on the MSAs, Dunlap gave her assurances the school will focus on moving them to higher level of achievement.

user comments (1)

user abc3sun says...

Kudos to Ms Dunlop for pointing out the obvious! Schools will never achieve their stated goals so long as the lack of parental involvement is ignored. If the child is not in school, no curriculum or teaching methodology will improve the child's test scores. For too long, politicians and educators, from the top in Maryland down to the local school, have been afraid to tell the public the truth--the failure of so many parents to assure educational success for their children. Our leaders must do whatever it takes to correct this travesty.




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