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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

3 Schools Admit Need for Extra State Money, Help

October 03, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Admitting they need help to boost student test scores, administrators from three Ventura County schools plan to apply to the state Department of Education for money and assistance available to low-performing schools.

Administrators from El Rancho Structured Elementary in Camarillo, Rio Plaza Elementary in El Rio and Fillmore High School say they will apply this week.

Five of the 20 campuses in the county eligible for the underperforming schools program are not applying, and 12 more are still deciding. If selected, the schools will receive tens of thousands of dollars over the next three years. During that time, an outside evaluator will work with school staff members to improve academic achievement.

The intervention program, in its second year, is a critical part of Gov. Gray Davis' plan to hold teachers and administrators accountable for student performance. Schools that improve could receive more grants, and schools that don't could face state takeover. No Ventura County campuses were selected for the program last year, although a few applied.

Bill Padia, director of the office of policy and evaluation for the state Department of Education, said he applauds the districts that apply.

"Districts that volunteer their schools recognize that here's an opportunity to get some additional funds to make some badly needed changes," he said. "They are really out in the forefront."

Statewide, 936 schools are eligible, because they ranked in the bottom half of the state's Academic Performance Index and because they did not meet their growth targets this year.

Of those, 430 will be selected, and each will receive $50,000 planning grants--to be used to hire an outside evaluator to identify weaknesses and propose solutions. The next year, they will receive up to $200 per student to pay for educational reforms, which the evaluator will monitor. The districts have to raise matching funds.

The eligible Ventura County schools include eight from Oxnard Elementary School District, four from Oxnard Union High School District, two each from Hueneme Elementary and Rio Elementary school districts, and one each from Ventura Unified, Pleasant Valley Elementary, Conejo Valley Unified and Fillmore Unified school districts.

Principal Linda Ngarupe of El Rancho Structured Elementary School, where one-third of the 485 students speak little or no English, said she looks forward to working with education experts if her school is chosen. "This [would be] a little extra boost and a little extra help to build on the growth we've already had," she said.

Fillmore High School Principal John Wilber said the program could help improve reading abilities of his 1,000 students, many of whom are poor and speak limited English. "Regardless of how they are coming to us, we can't make any more excuses," he said. "We have to do a better job preparing them."

Wilber said he's not worried about the potential state sanctions, which could include his job. "In two years, if we are not doing better, then something should change."

Officials at other schools, however, said they believe they can raise test scores without state help--and without state strings. Four of the five traditional high schools in the Oxnard Union High School District are eligible but do not plan to apply for grant money.

"We have the funds and the resources here, and we just don't think [an external evaluator] is necessary," said Assistant Supt. Gary Davis.

Staffs at Oxnard Elementary School District's eight eligible schools are meeting this week to decide whether to apply. A few of the campuses are already working with UC Santa Barbara to improve academic achievement, and a few others recently finished self-evaluations. Oxnard Assistant Supt. Connie Sharp said she believes that the schools should strongly consider applying for the state aid.

"I personally think it's a really good opportunity to look at the school [with] a fresh eye," she said. "Sometimes when you are inside you can't see the forest for the trees."

State education officials will award the grants on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to applications postmarked by Oct. 4. They will notify selected schools Oct. 16 and will post the list on the Internet at http://www.cde.ca.gov/iiusp/.

Underperforming Schools Ventura County schools eligible for the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program:

Conejo Valley Unified School District: Manzanita Elementary.

Fillmore Unified School District: Fillmore High.

Hueneme Elementary School District: Blackstock Junior High, E.O. Green Junior High.

Oxnard Elementary School District: Chavez Elementary, Curren Elementary, Driffill Elementary, Frank Intermediate, Fremont Intermediate, Kamala Elementary, McAuliffe Elementary, Sierra Linda Elementary.

Oxnard Union High School District: Channel Islands High, Oxnard High, Hueneme High, Rio Mesa High.

Pleasant Valley Elementary School District: El Rancho Structured Elementary.

Rio Elementary School District: Rio Plaza Elementary, Rio del Valle Elementary.

Ventura Unified School District: E.P. Foster Elementary.

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