Interventions talk gets Montgomery school board agitated -- Gazette.Net


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A presentation by Montgomery County Public Schools officials at the school board meeting Thursday about the school system’s new plan for interventions for underperforming students had some board members feeling agitated.

“What do we need to do to get them to achieve?” school board member Judith Docca said to the staff, near the end of the conversation. “You are not saying that.”

Docca and the other members of the Montgomery County Board of Education listened as Kimberly A. Statham, deputy superintendent of teaching, learning and programs for the school system, and other staff explained how schools would refocus to be more proactive rather than reactive with student achievement.

Interventions is one of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s three main priorities as he attempts to close gaps in academic performance between racial subgroups.

Starr pointed out three specific gaps in his memo to the board for the meeting Wednesday: fifth-graders’ performance on state reading tests; eighth-graders who complete Algebra 2 with a C or better; and students who graduated from high school in four years. In all three areas, black and Hispanic students lag behind their peers.

Docca said she was tired of seeing the charts showing gaps and wants to see “something more concrete about how to get to the kids and their parents.”

Starr said he does not want to give the impression that this is about hitting targets and not thinking about each individual child.

Schools should “name names,” he said.

When checking on what interventions are in place this year, Starr and his staff found that there is no apparent systemwide approach to interventions and that previous attempts to intervene have only included new programs and processes, and have not tried to change culture and mindset, Starr wrote in his memo.

Starting next school year, a to-be-hired intervention supervisor in the central office will work with a group of 15 to 20 schools that are either underperforming or that the school system can learn from, to study and address student success, said Elizabeth Brown, the school system’s director of curriculum and instruction.

Central-office staff will work with the schools to set targets and work with a specific team at the school to make sure there are procedures to help struggling students, she said.

By the 2015-16 school year, the practices will spread to all schools, Brown said.

Special attention will be paid to fifth-, eighth- and ninth-graders, Statham said.

The plan is to diagnose and assess student problems early and provide good first instruction, said Samantha B. Cohen, a doctoral resident in Statham’s office.

A work group has been considering the issue this year and is talking through the effective ways to address students’ struggles, Cohen said.

School board President Christopher S. Barclay and other school board members stressed the urgency of the work. Barclay called situation the school system is in with achievement gaps “a real crisis.”

“We are close to economic suicide if we don’t figure out what to do for our children,” he said.

Starr said he understands the desire for consistency.

“I want it, too, because believe you me, it gets frustrating,” he said.

jbondeson@gazette.net