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Principals: More class time needed to improve schools

Leaders from 11 Program Improvement schools — those that perform poorly on standardized tests — suggest changes to improve grade-level proficiency.

April 19, 2012|By Britney Barnes

Why do some schools fail to continually meet academic expectations? And how do you break the pattern?

The response, at least to the second question, was clear and simple during Tuesday's school board round table: time.

There's not enough of it.

"I've come to the conclusion that it really isn't rocket science," said Costa Mesa High School Principal Phil D'Agostino. "There are just some very simple things we need to do."

Principals of Newport-Mesa Unified's 11 Program Improvement schools focused on extending school days and years as they presented proposals to bring their students up to grade-level proficiency.

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Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, TeWinkle Middle School and Adams, College Park, Rea, Killybrooke, Paularino, Pomona, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools missed annual progress benchmarks required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for two consecutive years, which placed them in Program Improvement.

How the proposed programs and resources would be funded wasn't discussed, but the board is expected to talk about the costs and what the trade-offs would be during its meeting, said interim Supt. Rob Barbot.

"I purposely didn't want to give you the financial piece today," he told the board. "It limits the discussion."

The principals want to extend the school day by one or two hours for students who are below grade level.

Principals also want to start a free, four-week summer program to give students extra help. The camp would host students in grades 4 to 10 at a high school and give them fun activities, as well as academic time.

The problem with the long summer is that students don't read or do any kind of academic work, and many don't speak any English during break, said Estancia Principal Kirk Bauermeister.

For the elementary school students, hosting the camp on a high school campus would seem cool, while also giving them the goal of going to high school, said Rea Principal Anna Corral.

"Having them in summer school, we think, is the way we're going to close the achievement gap," D'Agostino said.

Other ideas included a schoolwide writing program and adding part-time teachers for targeted intervention. There was also a proposal of rearranging the daily schedule on the elementary level to have uninterrupted mornings, with all specialized teachers coming in the afternoon.

Trustee Karen Yelsey said extending the school day and year, along with parental involvement, is the key.

Trustee Martha Fluor also wanted to make sure the board realized one thing.

"I'm taking away a couple of things that I think we, as a board, need to take away with: At all of these schools there is going to be a huge restructuring," she said.

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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