Quincy administrators lament impact of budget cuts on student interventions

Posted: Jan. 14, 2013 11:35 pm Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Administrators from several Quincy schools say budget cuts have been hampering their ability to help students who struggle with reading and math.

The administrators spoke out at Monday's Curriculum Committee meeting while giving reports about "school improvement plans" formulated for their respective buildings. These SIPs were developed for every local school as students' scores on standardized tests continue to trend downward throughout the district.

Data reflected on school report cards show only three of the Quincy School District's 10 schools made "adequate yearly progress" in 2012 -- Monroe, Madison and Dewey elementary schools. All others failed to make the grade.

What's more, many schools are having a hard time providing additional support to struggling students because of budget cuts imposed by the School Board in recent years.

For example, at least 30 percent of Baldwin Intermediate School's 1,500 students are performing below minimum standards in reading while at least 36 percent are performing below standards in math, Baldwin's principals reported Monday.

Melanie Schrand, principal of Baldwin West, said because of budget cuts, only one math interventionist is now available to assist all 1,500 Baldwin students. "That's important to note," she said.

Only one literacy coach is now available for each of Baldwin's three 500-student sections, and just one half-time interventionist is available in each section.

Schrand said the number of interventionists is far fewer "than the number of students who need those interventions."

Cynthia Crow, principal of Baldwin South, echoed similar concerns about how budget cuts have restricted the ability to provide extra intervention for students who were on the "bubble" between success and failure on standardized tests.

"There were a lot of kids who could have benefited and probably met state standards had they gotten the opportunity for intervention," she said.

Trish Sullivan-Viniard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, agreed that "we've had a loss of classroom teachers, and we've had a loss of interventionists" and other staff positions as the district made budget cuts in recent years.

"All of them are money," she said.

School Board member Steve Krause said he's been hearing the same refrain for the past three years -- "that we don't have enough intervention for the kids."

Krause said he fears the situation may only grow worse as Quincy joins other schools across the state and nation in gearing up for the implementation of new "common core" educational standards over the next couple of years.

"It might make people feel nice to teach more complicated stuff or deeper levels of thinking in our students," as the common core approach recommends, he said. "But the problem is, we don't have the basics in place for this."

Krause said he keeps hearing the district "doesn't have enough programs and enough staff and enough money to intervene on the kids that need basic stuff. To me, I don't see common core as a silver bullet."

Quincy High School Principal Danielle Edgar told how QHS will be implementing plans to align its curriculum more closely with the common core state standards. This will include changing the teaching approach in some classrooms to get students more involved in the instructional process.

"We want lots of critical thinking and problem-solving opportunities for kids," she said. "We don't want the traditional classroom model per se, because we want kids asking those higher-level questions and really raising the bar for them."

However, Edgar said she regrets that the district eliminated -- for financial reasons -- the practice of having department heads overseeing different curriculum areas. She would like to see the department heads reinstated because of the leadership provided by those experienced individuals.

"When curricular shifts are occurring at the rate that they are -- and instruction has to change to go along with that -- that leadership becomes even more critical," Edgar said.

School Board member Jeff Mays agreed, saying he wishes the district didn't do away with the department head arrangement.

"I always thought that was penny wise and pound foolish," Mays said. "We need to have that kind of a system back in place ... That would be a low-cost, high impact strategy that I think we should consider when we put our budget together."

Dan Sparrow, principal of Quincy Junior High School, also gave a report on the school improvement plan established for his building. He, too, mentioned how budget cuts have adversely impacted certain educational elements.

For example, Sparrow said the school was forced to eliminate some elective courses, including exploratory arts -- a favorite subject for certain students with a keen interest in art.

"That affects a lot of our ‘bubble' kids," he said.

The principals of Adams, Berrian and Washington elementary schools also gave reports on their school improvement plans. All three noted their schools have high percentages of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which can adversely impact student achievement.

Washington Principal Sara Cramer noted that Washington's poverty rate is the highest in the district at 94.7 percent.

Cramer said it may be time for the School Board to consider changing the educational boundaries to even out the distribution of students from various demographic boundaries.

"We need to look at redistricting," she said.

Cramer pointed to the model used by Baldwin Intermediate School as an example of what can be accomplished. "They have children from across the district, from every demographic area," she said.