Jul 28, 2014

Thinking About Moving Your Child Out of an Underachieving Focus School?

Farmington Schools officials say a new option mandated by the state Dept. of Education may not be all that it seems and urge parents to attend a Thursday forum on the topic.

Thinking About Moving Your Child Out of an Underachieving Focus School?

Michigan parents now have the option of moving their children out of schools identified by the state as having large achievement gaps between high- and low-achieving learners. 

But (FPS) officials say the choices may be limited, and parents should look closely at the available schools before making up their minds. To help parents sort through the details, the district is hosting a forum Thursday, 7 p.m., at the Ten Mile Building,  32789 W. 10 Mile Rd. in Farmington.

Time is short; parents have to apply for transfers by Aug. 30.

Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services Michele Harmala said transfers are only an option for students in schools that are identified as "Focus" schools based on achievement gaps and receive Title I funds to help meet the needs of low-income students. 

Of the 11 schools identified with large achievement gaps, , and Elementary, and are Title I schools. and , , , and are also Focus schools. 

Harmala said students cannot transfer to another Focus school. Because so many Farmington and neighboring schools fall into that category, the district partnered with Clarenceville Schools in Livonia, but the district is not required to accept FPS students.

Highmeadow, a high achieving Focus school

Harmala urged parents to look carefully before they leap, because some non-Focus schools have lower grades on the state's Education YES! report card and lower top-to-bottom rankings than some Focus schools. For instance, Highmeadow is in the 98th percentile among all Michigan schools, but is also a Focus school. 

Also, Director of Instructional Equity Naomi Kahlil explained, once a student is moved, he or she has to stay with the new school through that school's configuration. For instance, a 6th grader who moved to Clarenceville Middle School would have to stay there through 8th grade. 

"That's why the community forum is so important," she said. "If they move their child, they may be stuck with that decision for many years." 

Focus designation remains for four years

Khalil said Focus schools stay in that category for four years, and during those four years, the district must set aside 10 percent of its Title I funds, which would normally go toward academics, to cover transportation costs for students who want to transfer. Schools must set aside 10 percent of their Title I funds to work with students who are struggling academically and at the lowest socio-economic levels. 

Over the four years, the amounts of designated funds increase from 10 percent to 20 percent, Khalil added. 

There is no appeal process in the first year; in the second, the district can apply to be a "Good, Getting Great" school, she said.

While the state's focus on achievement gaps is relatively new, Harmala said FPS has been working on "eliminating the predictability of the achievement gap" since at least 2004. The district is one of 28 in the Oakland Schools Learning Achievement Coalition, a collaboration that includes Oakland Schools, Oakland University, and the University of Michigan, and is part of the Minority Student Achievement Network.

"We are always focused on the gap," Harmala said. "That's no different for us."  

More information about Focus schools and the transfer process is posted on the District's website

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