School Improvement Grant could fire teachers, principals

School Improvement Grants could pour funds ranging from $50,000 to $2 million per school into the Tuscaloosa school system, but they also could include a pink slip for a number of teachers and principals.

There are three Tier I schools in Tuscaloosa that would be eligible for this grant, including Central High School, Eastwood Middle and Westlawn Middle School.

“Our district is currently reviewing the proposals and gathering input from our schools,” said Margaret O’Neal, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The grant calls for the selection of one of four of the models that contain requirements that would bring a significant change at the school resulting in replacing a principal or firing the teachers.

“Our school staff is committed to using this opportunity to provide resources to add to the success of our students,” she said.

The four models are the called turnaround, restart, school closure and transformation. The turnaround model requires replacing principal, and implement strategies to recruit, place, and retain staff.

The restart model closes and reopens a school under an education management organization, while the school closure model closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school in other schools that are higher achieving.

Lastly, the transformation model replaces the principal implements a new evaluation system.

“To date we have not submitted proposals to the Board for their review,” O’Neal said. She said their timeline is expected to include the first overview for the Board on April 9.

Alabama Department of Education spokeswoman Malissa Valdes said that Central is on the state’s Tier I school list because it’s had the lowest graduation rate of all Alabama high schools in the past three years, according to a Tuscaloosa News article.

Eastwood is in the bottom 20 percent of all state elementary and middle schools, and Westlawn is one of the bottom five Title I schools that has at least 35 percent of students at or below the federal poverty level, the article said.

“Removing effective principals and teachers will not improve student achievement,” said Joyce Stallworth, senior associate dean of education at UA.

Stalworth said local schools need the flexibility to use the federal money to get parents, families and communities involved as education partners.

The school improvement grants are not just impacting Tuscaloosa, but across the nation. In all, the U.S. government is allocating $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants to turn around the lowest achieving schools nationwide.

“We must work toward solutions that recognize teachers' expertise and simultaneously hold teachers, administrators, parents/families, and students to high expectations,” she said.

Stallworth said that if the school system promotes the involvement of parents and families as educated partners it would provide the support necessary for teachers to do their jobs.

Stallworth said people cannot continue to blame teachers singularly for poor student performance.

“Students must come to school ready to learn and teachers must be supported as they facilitate students' acquisition of the knowledge and skills necessary for success,” she said. “Parents, families and students themselves must be accountable.”

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