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Transfer numbers worry School Board

BY NINA EARNEST | DECEMBER 15, 2010 7:10 AM

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Iowa City School Board members expressed concern at its meeting Tuesday about the high numbers of Schools in Need of Assistance transfers in the School District.

Six local schools are designated as being in need of assistance under the No Child Left Behind Act, and a worrisome number of students are transferring out of those schools, school officials said.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann introduced the 2010-11 enrollment report for the district, including the number of transfers from Hills, Kirkwood, Lucas, Roosevelt, Twain, and Wood Elementary Schools, at the board meeting Tuesday night.

"If I had to make a conclusion, I'd say it was significant," said Feldmann said. "It's having a significant effect on our schools [in need of assistance]."

Schools are marked as being in need of assistance because of a lack of growth students show on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. The schools are then required to offer parents the opportunity to transfer their students to different schools, but officials are concerned about the viability of some of the district's schools because of decreasing populations.

Hills Elementary received particular attention from board. At the school of just under 100 students, 26 students transferred because of Schools in Need of Assistance requirements.

Though Roosevelt is also a School in Need of Assistance, no students transferred out.

Board Vice President Mike Cooper asked the members how long a school can be viable with fewer than 100 students.

"There's an elephant in the room we haven't talked about," he said.

By 2014, the district schools, as well as schools nationwide, are meant to have students meet 100 percent proficiency. For a student to be proficient, Feldmann said, they must place in the 41st percentile in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

"That's impossible," Feldmann said. "But that doesn't mean we're not going to try."

But officials fear the situation is going to get worse.

The district is anticipating more local schools will be placed on the need of assistance list, Feldmann said.

"It's really too bad that it's having this effect on our school population," said board member Toni Cilek.

But Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Furlong said the method for designating schools as in need of assistance may be flawed.

"I think the designation gives the perception it's an inferior school," she said.

The high number of transfers also holds financial consequences. When a student leaves a school because of its designation as being in need of assistance, the district often has to bus those students to another school — costing up to $40,000 per bus.

"Every time we put a bus on the road, we're taking a teacher out of the classroom," Superintendent Steve Murley said, comparing the cost to a teacher's salary.

Suggestions to keep schools from losing their students included contacting families to see if their expectations were met after transferring.

"We're just beginning," Furlong said. "It's not a quick process. There aren't any silver bullets, any quick fixes out there."


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