Now that the state's list of persistently lowest-achieving schools is final, nine campuses in Contra Costa County are under an intense spotlight focused on student achievement.
Inclusion on the list has prompted varying reactions from local schools. Some, such as Oak Grove Middle School in Concord, welcome the opportunity to show the public the kinds of innovative changes they have already made, which are reaping rewards. Others, such as Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point, are deflecting media calls and relying on the Mt. Diablo school district to comment for them.
"We're taking it seriously," said Steven Lawrence, superintendent of the Mt. Diablo district, which has six campuses on the list. "We're going to treat all of our low-performing schools the same, whether they're on the list or not. We're going to look at what we're doing and where we need to improve."
Schools landed on the list if they scored in the bottom 5 percent on standardized tests during the past three years and failed to make adequate improvement.
In a last-minute revision, Mt. Diablo High was removed from the list and replaced by Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. The West Contra Costa district also saw a sudden switch, with Pinole High being bumped off the list by Helms Middle School.
Both changes were made because the middle schools had lower test scores than the high schools, according to state Department of Education calculations. An additional list of the state's low-performing schools was also created. It includes dozens more schools in Contra Costa County that are not in the bottom 5 percent, but are in the federal Program Improvement because of poor test scores. These campuses are not subject to the same sanctions as the lowest-performing schools.
Principals of the three lowest-achieving schools in the West Contra Costa district said they had been instructed not to comment on their status. District spokesman Marin Trujillo said that administrators were waiting for more information from the state before moving forward with reforms.
Tony Thurmond, a West Contra Costa trustee, said earlier this week that he expected the board to discuss the schools March 24. The Mt. Diablo district plans to hold a board workshop about its lowest-achieving schools in mid-May, Lawrence said.
He pointed out that Oak Grove Middle School in Concord gained 64 points on the state's 1,000-point Academic Performance Index, or API, last year. Bel Air Elementary in Bay Point posted dramatic gains in students' math proficiency, he said.
Lawrence also noted that two schools in the district of more than 50 campuses are in the running to be named as California Distinguished Schools. They are Hidden Valley Elementary in Martinez and Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg.
"It is exciting that in these challenging times, we do have schools in our district put up there for other schools to look at in the state," he said, "and to see that we do have beacons in our district."
Terry McCormick, principal of Oak Grove Middle School for five years, said her staff is energized and looking forward to repeating the spectacular gains students made last year. So many students achieved proficiency in math and language arts that the school reached yearly progress goals, she said.
"We're actually in a good place," she said. "Is there an urgency? Yes. Do we know we can do it? Absolutely."
The staff at Glenbrook Middle School in Concord also is trying to remain upbeat after being surprised by its late addition to the list, said Principal Jonathan Eagan, who joined the campus this year. Similar to Oak Grove, the school's academic index rose nearly 50 points in the past two years, he said.
"We're feeling like our school is headed in a good direction," he said. "Right now, all of this drama, as I like to call it, is not something we're going to let affect us. We've really been making a lot of positive changes."
Staff writer Shelly Meron contributed to this story.
More information about the state's School Improvement Grant application, including California's list of persistently lowest-achieving schools, can be found at www.cde.ca.gov.