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5-year plan to raise student achievement



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March 12, 2014 - Part 2 on Clarkston Community Schools' five year Strategic Plan addresses the first of six Focus Areas, Student Performance.

Increasing student performance is a top priority for Clarkston School Board members.

"Currently we are towards the top of the middle group on most standardized tests," said board Secretary Craig Hamilton. "We should be at the top, where other schools are striving to get to."

Student Performance is the first of six Focus Areas outlined in the Strategic Plan prepared by the school board over the past several months.

One goal in the plan is for Clarkston Schools "to be recognized for exemplary attainment in county and state measures of student achievement" by 2020.

The Bridge Magazine Achievement Exceeding Predicted Proficiency study earlier this year ranked Clarkston schools 162 out of 540 districts in the state.

The study compared the performance of low-income and other subgroups when ranking achievement between school districts, said Board Vice President Susan Boatman.

"Clarkston Schools is committed to improving the test scores of all our students, including those that fall into the sub-group categories," Boatman said.

Board Treasurer Joan Patterson said the study provides good information how subgroups in Clarkston are being served and where improvements can be made.

"It's a chance to ask questions about different sub groups of kids and who might be left behind," Patterson said.

The studies and test scores show there is room for improvement, Hamilton said.

"With our staff, community and students, we should be ranking higher, but since standardized testing has been drastically deemphasize in the last four years or so, it's not really surprising," he said. "Hopefully with the board's direction and the strategic plan that should get adopted soon, the superintendent will put a greater emphasis in that area."

MEAP scores need improvement, he said.

"There was a nice increase in science this year, but for the most part our changes in scores mirrored what happened in the county and state," he said. "This is another area that needs improvement and should be addressed since the superintendent will finally be looking at student achievement as an area we need to improve in."

An obstacle in getting to that point is unequal state funding, Hamilton said. Clarkston receives $7,140 per student from the state.

"Our staff has done an outstanding job doing more with less resources, support staff, classroom assistants, etc., than most others," he said. "If we were to get as much per pupil as Rochester does in foundation allowance we would have another $ 6,400,000 per year, as much as Farmington and we would receive an additional $22,500,000 from the state per year."

Administration and school board have been aggressively pursuing alternate funding, he said.

The strategic plan also calls for the School Board to study instructional initiatives such as Magnet School; Middle College; Expansion of Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning; Year-Round School; Special Education Program Delivery and Resource Allocation; Elementary World Language; and Increased Art, Music and PE Offerings. Studies would include academic and programmatic impact, cost for implementation and sustaining initiative, staffing implications, and training.

The challenge is to understand Clarkston student population, subgroups and their needs, and assess where some of these groups are underserved, Lieblang said.

"Once we understand this analysis, it should help us identify and prioritize which initiatives would be best for our students," she said. "It would be wonderful if we had more funding to be able to add more programs but the reality continues to be that we are one of the lowest funded districts in Oakland county."

This means the district must prioritize and make choices on how limited resources are allocated to fund new programs, she said.

Year round school is a popular topic in the state right now, Hamilton said.

"If there are funds available to cover the additional cost I would be open to trying it on a limited scope," he said. "I would really like to see middle college. It has the potential to have the most profound effect by making college available to some that might not have been able or to allow student to complete college sooner."

The board will be looking at any new instructional initiatives to ensure that the proposals fit within the strategic plan and do not disrupt progress being made on the annual plan, Boatman said.

"Due to the district's current financial status it is unlikely that expensive initiatives would be adopted in the near future," she said.

Trustees Elizabeth Egan, Steve Hyer, Cheryl McGinnis did not respond to requests for comment on this and last week's article.

Next week, the Strategic Plan's second Focus Area addresses the district's Technology.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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