VESTABURG — This is not how Superintendent Jeff Beal wanted to start the upcoming school year.
Vestaburg High School has been named a priority school by the Michigan Department of Education, meaning the school is in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.
Priority schools were previously known as persistently lowest achieving schools by the state, but the label has been changed to “priority.”
Vestaburg school officials are scheduled for an appeal hearing today with Dr. Joseph Martineau and the Department of Education in Lansing.
According to the Department of Education, when a school is named a priority school, it is required to implement one of four intervention models. Those options include the turnaround model, the transformation model, the restart model or school closure.
To be removed from priority school status, a school has to receive a green, lime, yellow or orange color on the accountability scorecard, showing the school has met all interim measurements of progress, met proficiency and/or improvement targets on average as a school, increased the proficiency rate of all traditional subgroups and increased the proficiency rate of the school’s very lowest performing students.
According to Beal, the Department of Education excluded test results from sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade students who participated in MEAP, thus eliminating half of the student grades tested each year. The omission of the four grades was due to Vestaburg consolidating its buildings in 2010-2011. Due to budget constraints, school officials reduced administration by 25 percent and consolidated the middle school and high school into one building.
Beal said even though all students continued to participate in MEAP during the consolidation — and scores even improved — the scores were not included in the high school calculations. Beal believes if the state had included all student test scores, Vestaburg High School would not have made the priority list.
Beal sent a letter to parents in the school district, informing them of the news.
“The administration, principals, and teaching staff of Vestaburg Community School have a lot of work to do with regards to student achievement and the challenges our junior class has faced on the Michigan Merit Exam and ACT,” the letter stated. “While our ranking on the Michigan Top to Bottom Ranking is unfortunate, it is a small snapshot of a much larger picture.
“Ongoing efforts and the significant gains that have been started in the elementary school and continued into the middle school will pay off in the high school,” Beal’s letter stated. “New curriculum has been purchased to provide the instructional tools necessary to align the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade in math and this year we will be moving forward to address the curricular needs in reading and writing. In addition, a K-12 Dean of Students will be freeing up our principals to have a much more hands on approach to the learning in the buildings, helping to ensure that all students are mastering the curriculum. The NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) has developed online assessments that every student participates in multiple times per year, providing parents, students and teachers with rich feedback as to the progress our students are making throughout the year as well as how they compare to state and national averages. We look forward to sharing these results with our community and believe that this will prove a valuable tool in assisting our teachers when helping struggling students.
“To be clear, we acknowledge the challenges our students have had and are taking steps to provide a more rigorous and content-rich learning environment for our children as well as implementing accountability standards that will provide the teaching staff with the information they need to be more responsible for the learning taking place in the classroom,” the letter concluded. “Days of old when teachers were responsible for teaching the material are long behind us and our staff is moving forward with a vision where we are all responsible for the students learning the material. We will, together with the parents, students and stakeholders develop a stronger more responsive community school. Our children are our priority.”
A total of 138 schools have been listed as priority schools by the state this year, including 10 schools in Kent County.