What happens when a school gets flagged enough times by the NCLB watchdogs to merit the dreaded sanction “Implement Restructuring Plan?” It’s happening in Willingboro Public Schools in Burlington County where the Board of Education there last week approved a reshuffling of administrators in front of 200 residents. New Superintendent Thomas McMahon explained that the State DOE requires him to implement an “action plan” to try to jumpstart academic growth – a sanction that drops once a school is in the its 5th year of a School in Need of Improvement (SINI). Now, technically the kids stuck in the failing school should have had an earlier sanction imposed on the district, school choice, which would have allowed them to transfer to another school in the district. But we’re in New Jersey where, due to our 616 districts, there is rarely another school in the district.
We’ve taken previous looks at Willingboro Public Schools because it’s a useful example of a school district that often suffers by comparison with its richer neighbors and doesn’t get any of the State assistance available to Abbott districts. So how are they doing this year? While a few of their elementary schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the other schools flunked. AYP requires that 79% of high school kids pass the HSPA in Language Arts and 64% pass the HSPA in math. However, at Willingboro High 72% passed Language Arts and only 36.6% passed the math test. Across the State in 2007-2998, 89.2% of kids graduated by passing the HSPA; in Willingboro 48.4% graduated through the HSPA. The New Jersey average for kids who took AP courses in high school was 18.3%; in Willingboro a paltry 2.4% took AP courses. New Jersey Monthly rated Willingboro High as 247h in a ranking of 316 high schools.
So the clock ticks on NCLB, sanctions are imposed, and it’s musical chairs among administrators: principals moved from one building to another, or made curriculum supervisors, or curriculum supervisors turned into principals. (You can’t bring in new people because they all have tenure.) To wit, courtesy of the Burlington County Times,
■ Memorial Assistant Principal Sonya Nock was appointed acting principal.
■ Theodore Boler, principal of Levitt Middle School, will become district-wide supervisor of special projects and work with Ellerbe.
■ Dumar Burgess, assistant principal at Levitt Middle School, will become acting principal of Hawthorne Elementary School.
■ Hawthorne Principal Nadine Tribett will become district supervisor of curriculum and instruction for kindergarten through grade five.
■ Walter Poroszok, the district’s supervisor of No Child Left Behind and grants, will become the district’s supervisor of curriculum and instruction for grades six through 12.
■ Stuart Elementary School Principal Brita Woodard will become district supervisor of science for grades kindergarten through grade 12.
■ Jade Yezzi, the district’s kindergarten through grade five math supervisor, will become the acting principal of Stuart Elementary in March. Until that time, Howard Colvin will serve as interim principal.
■ Tiffany Godfrey will become the district’s director of technology at a salary of $88,000.
■ Carrie Sterrs will become the grants writer and community education specialist at a salary of $48,500.
■ Ellis Brown, a 10-month assistant principal at the high school, will become a 12-month employee
It’s anyone’s guess whether this reshuffling will help the kids, who play their own game of musical chairs with Willingboro’s 43% mobility rate. Is it money? The average cost per pupil in New Jersey for 2007-2008 was $14,359 and Willingboro’s per pupil cost is slightly below that at $13,892. Probably not. Is it mismanagement? Maybe. The State District Auditor found that in 2005 Willingboro ended the year with a $5.9 million general fund deficit that was due to approval of a budget that was “grossly insufficient” and contained “certain inappropriate transactions.” The population continues to decrease, with about 500 fewer pupils this year, so it’s more difficult to increase services.
Meanwhile, down the road plenty of kids attend excellent schools with competent administrators and higher academic achievement. NCLB is a pretty weak ticket when school choice is a meaningless option because there’s only one high school in Willingboro. What would happen if the children attending schools in the 5th year of SINI got a ticket out and could attend another high school in a neighboring district? The old canards – it’s too hard to work out a fair cost appropriation, transportation, whatever – seem to pale before a chance to give these kids a fair shot.