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North Park Junior High’s ‘ESSA’ status tackled

Lockport City School District and North Park Junior High School administrators believe recently created comprehensive education plans will change the determinations both got from the New York State Education Department saying they were in need of improvement. 

In January, the state education department released its determinations for the classification of districts under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law, and deemed Lockport a “target” district and North Park a “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” school. 

At the time of the classification, North Park Principal Bernadette Smith said she believed the main thing that led to the school’s CSI designation was the number of students who do not take the state assessments, which are optional. Smith noted the ESSA criteria is based on a 95 percent participation rate in the tests, and at North Park, 61 percent of students took the tests last year. 

Smith said in a recent interview that some of the highlights of the North Park comprehensive education plan include: focusing on increasing student-to-student interaction within the classroom, making sure that the school’s curriculum is aligned with the standards prescribed under ESSA and tackling chronic absenteeism.

One specific tool the district is using to help with mathematics education is a new math extension class, which Smith said could be used to reinforce already taught material or pre-teach material. District Superintendent Michelle Bradley said this will add 26 extra hours of math education per year. 

“That’s significant,” Bradley said. 

To help monitor the curriculum, benchmark assessments will be used, Smith said. 

“I like to use the analogy of, if you’re trying to lose weight you certainly try to weigh yourself periodically to see how you’re doing. So benchmarks assessments are similar to that. How well are students mastering the standards and do we need to make any adjustments?” Smith said. 

ESSA defines a student as chronically absent if they have missed 10 percent or more of school days, regardless whether they have an excuse for their absenteeism. Smith said the district will be making sure students and parents understand how important it is for children to be in school. 

“There is a lot of research that says that if kids aren’t in school 90 percent of the time they’re automatically behind. It seems logical anyway to just assume that, but there is a lot of research that shows that if they’re not in school they cannot learn and then a deficit begins to accumulate,” Smith said. “And so we want to make sure we’re educating people about the importance of that.”

One of the ways the district plans to specifically tackle absenteeism is by improving the school climate. 

Smith said the district will incorporate some anti-bullying programs into the curriculum. 

Bradley noted that cyber bullying will be tackled as well, by reaching out to parents to make sure they are aware of how their children are using social media. 

“Bullying nowadays looks a little bit different. There is an element of cyber bullying, so we’re asking parents to be very aware of their children’s social media accounts because it’s not just the bullying in the hallway, name calling in the hallway,” Bradley said.  

Marianne Currie-Hall, executive director of educational services, explained the district-wide comprehensive education plan is similar to the North Park plan, but one district-wide solution is the identification of a data collection tool, so that district officials will have instant access to data. She added that the plan looks at aligning curriculum between Emmet Belknap Intermediate School and North Park. 

Bradley said often times the district is given mandates or required plans from the state without any additional funds, but in this case the district received $150,000 to help with ESSA compliance. The district has used that money to hire an additional English Language Arts teacher at both Belknap and North Park schools. 

Smith said she believes North Park will no longer be classified as a CSI school when the plan is fully implemented. 

The state assessments are based on several criteria, including student achievement in English Language Arts, mathematics, science and social studies; student growth in language arts and math; four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates; student readiness for college, career and participation in civic life; acquisition of English proficiency by English language learners; and chronic absenteeism. The three determinations a school can get are good standing, CSI or Targeted Support and Improvement.

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