Options limited with federal school grant; 4 Bibb principals would be replaced

Bibb County school officials must vote next Thursday on whether to replace four high school principals and make decisions that could cost dozens of teachers their jobs in order to get up to $24 million in federal stimulus funding.

During a Thursday school board meeting, officials presented details of a federal stimulus grant that is available to 23 school districts in Georgia — including Bibb — aimed at turning around the state’s lowest achieving schools.

Bibb has four of them: Southwest, Northeast and Rutland high schools, and Hutchings Career Center.

The state identified those schools because in two out of three years that officials took into account, each of those schools had under a 60 percent graduation rate, missed Adequate Yearly Progress goals a number of times, and are among the state’s lowest achieving Title I schools.

Sylvia McGee, Bibb’s acting superintendent, said the system, in a sense, is being forced to take the “school improvement grant” and approve drastic reforms or submit a report to the state providing a rationale for why the district is turning down millions in funding.

“We’re not going after the grant; the grant is coming after us,” McGee said. “It’s devastating to have to consider replacing principals as a requirement. All of our principals have shown to be dedicated to student achievement.”

But part of the grant’s stipulation — to get up to $2 million a year for three years for each of the four schools — is that the board adopt a new “intervention model” in each school.

Here are the four different models that school boards can choose:

n The turnaround model includes replacing the principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the school’s staff, providing professional development, using test data to drive instruction and increasing school instruction time. That could mean adopting a longer school day or a longer school year.

n The restart model includes the school system’s reopening a school as a charter school, but McGee said the state has not given adequate time for Bibb to use this model because it can take up to a year to enter the charter process. Whatever Bibb adopts will take effect this fall.

n The closure model includes closing a school and sending those students to a higher performing school, but McGee also said school officials aren’t considering this model since each of the four schools has more than 800 students.

n The transformation model includes replacing the principal, implementing a new staff evaluation program, which would reward teachers who increase student test scores as well as remove those who don’t, and increasing student instruction time.

Thursday’s board committee meeting was packed with teachers and students, mostly from Rutland High School, some who wore black ribbons pinned to their shirts that had been passed out at school earlier Thursday.

Most of them said they were shocked to hear that they may have to replace their school’s leader, Gail Gilbert, and that teachers’ jobs may be at stake.

Art teacher Brooks Dantzler said the black ribbons represented the school in “mourning.”

“Our school is in danger,” she said.

The school needs stabilization in order to make gains, said another Rutland teacher.

“We do all we can, but we can’t do everything,” Tamara Smith Barfield said. “We’re not miracle workers.”

The school, she said, is being targeted for test scores, but parents are also to blame, as well as getting students at their school who come in grades behind.

A 2009 Rutland graduate, who was also at the meeting, said she was at the school and saw teachers crying Thursday because of the drastic reform possibilities.

“They are so emotional and attached to Rutland,” said Chiquella Taylor, who said she had three principals in her four years there.

McGee said the school system is holding public hearings Tuesday at each of the four schools to get input.

At next week’s Thursday school board meeting, the board will need to vote on which model each school will adopt. The board does not have to use the same model for all four schools.

The system has to then file a report to the state by April 15, setting out a three-year plan for each school’s improvement, providing each school’s available resources and other data.

Board member Tommy Barnes said he wasn’t sure if the board, after adopting certain models, could transfer principals in at least three of the schools, as well as some teachers. The principal at Southwest is not returning next fall.

“The state required our presence,” so to speak, Barnes said. “We only have a week to make decisions, so we have to be prudent and cautious in how we proceed.”

The state will get $122 million in federal stimulus funding for 37 different schools considered low achieving.

“The idea behind it is to give schools that have not been able to turn around performance a few more resources and tools and actual plans to go about how to get those results,” state spokesman Matt Cardoza said earlier this week.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.