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Greenfield-Central principals target better attendance, ISTEP numbers

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GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central officials hope this school year will be marked by improved attendance, better ISTEP scores and more children passing the newly implemented IREAD3 test.

The corporation’s eight principals came before the school board Monday night to share their schools’ improvement plans for the next year. Having the plans approved by the board annually is required by state law.

Each principal presented a one-page preview document highlighting the school’s objectives for the year. While the goals varied slightly from school to school, building principals across the four-tier system noted they hope more students will pass the ISTEP test (and IREAD3, if applicable) this year, a goal they say will be achieved in part by better attendance.

Administrators had hoped to include goals based on the latest accountability grades – in accordance with the A-F school rating system implemented statewide last year – but that data was not released by the DOE Monday as expected.

Overall, the focus was on percentage points – of those passing portions of the ISTEP, reading at grade level, etc.

Jan Kehrt, principal at Harris Elementary School, said she would like to see Harris continue on the upward trend of improved ISTEP+ performance.

During the 2009-2010 school year, 71 percent of third-grade students passed the test, and that number increased dramatically last year to 89.5 percent, Kehrt said.

At the end of the year, Kehrt wants to see 92 percent pass the test.

In looking at the improved numbers, Kehrt credits the ReadUP program, a United Way initiative that pairs children reading below grade level with adult mentors who read with them three times per week. The program piloted at Harris in 2009.

Administrators say the ReadUP program boosted student performance on the IREAD3 test as well. The test is a critical measurement of student reading ability, as students who fail the IREAD can be prohibited from moving on to fourth grade.

J.B. Stephens Principal Candy Short told the board her goal of having 92 percent of third-graders at her school pass the IREAD3 – as compared with 90 percent last year – might seem lofty, but she believes it’s a goal within reach.

In some cases, increasing even one percent in a category can be a chore, pointed out Joey Johnson, principal at Eden Elementary School. One area where Eden has excelled has been attendance, he said, noting that parents are more attuned to school policy than ever, thanks to a partnership with the Hancock County Prosecutor’s office to target parents who fail to send their children to school.

The policy warns parents that excessive absences can result in neglect charges for parents.

“The new Hancock County attendance initiative that we did in cooperation with (Prosecutor) Michael Griffin is incredible,” Johnson said. “It gives us a lot when I call a parent and say, ‘You’re heading down this path.’”

Maxwell Intermediate Principal Jobie Whitaker pointed to a less tangible goal for this year – better defining what it means to be an intermediate student. When Greenfield-Central moved to a four-tier system, students in fourth through sixth grades moved to one of two intermediate schools in the district. For some, that was a confusing transition, he said.

“We were kind of all over the board when we walked in,” he said. “Some thought they were in middle school; some thought they were in elementary. It’s been a much smoother start this year in the hallways. It’s much less rambunctious, if you will.”

Making the change from one tier to the next as smooth as possible remains a goal throughout the corporation, said Greenfield Intermediate School Principal Jim Bever.

“We’re working very aggressively at being better at transitions all the way through,” he said.

The detailed versions of the plans are due to the DOE by the end of the month. Those plans will also be posted for public review on each school’s website.

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