Bibb schools accept $24M grant; 2 principals, teachers to be spared

Rutland and Northeast high school principals can stay on the job this fall even though the Bibb County school system is accepting a federal grant for school reform.

Bibb school officials were told by the state in recent weeks that four Bibb high schools — Northeast, Southwest, Rutland and Hutchings Career Center — are considered to be among the lowest achieving in the state.

The schools together qualify for up to $24 million over three years to help with instruction and teacher training if the schools make drastic changes.

One change, system officials were told early on, required replacing the schools’ principals if the system accepted the money. But the U.S. Department of Education notified the state Wednesday that principals on the job fewer than three years can remain on the job.

Sylvia McGee, Bibb’s acting superintendent, said the system, in turn, notified the principals.

“In the case of Rutland and Northeast, we will be able to look at the principals there to see about them remaining in place,” she said.

Gail Gilbert, Rutland’s principal of three years, has indicated she wants to return.

Northeast High principal Herbert Hodges, who has been on the job one year, is considering returning, McGee said. System officials plan to meet with him today.

Hutchings Career Center principal Ron McCall will not return because he has been on the job for four years. And Southwest principal Tyrone Bacon was not being offered a contract this fall, even before the grant consideration.

McGee recommended that the school system take the School Improvement Grant money and use a “transformation” reform model in each of the four schools. Under that model, teachers at the four schools will be allowed to stay. They will be rewarded for making gains, while those who don’t will be replaced.

The board voted 8-0 to approve the recommendation.

School board President Gary Bechtel said the other three model options were too drastic or not realistic to complete by the fall. Those models were to close, start as a charter school or use the “turnaround” model to replace principals and half of a school’s staff.

“The turnaround offered some pretty drastic unknowns that would’ve involved possible litigation,” Bechtel said. The school board is in the process of approving teaching contracts for the 2010-11 school year.

“We could’ve been the test case” for a lawsuit, he said.

Under the transformation model that Bibb’s school board has agreed to, the schools will be able to create a teacher evaluation tool and teacher pay incentives, and extend the school day or school year. Those kinds of things have not been allowed under current budget constraints, McGee said.

Many teachers and parents attending Thursday’s school board meeting cheered loudly when the board announced its decision.

“I’m excited our staff is staying together,” Northeast teacher Chanda Crawley said.

Rutland’s Gilbert said the threats brought her staff and students together. She said Rutland is up to the task of making changes to improve.

“It has ignited and united our staff and students,” Gilbert said while getting hugs from her teachers. “We have a lot of work ahead.”

McCall, principal at Hutchings, sat in a back row during the meeting and later said he’s not sure what he’ll do this coming school year.

McGee and board members said they couldn’t refuse the funds and hope to now “take some risks” that Bibb County schools have needed to take.

The schools can hire reading specialists, literacy coaches and others to do more one-on-one work with students, as well as do things such as address student behavior problems.

“I hope this sets the bar on behavior,” board member Lynn Farmer said. “I’m exhausted on the time we spend on students. ... I’m imploring staff to please be serious about this discipline issue.”

McGee said if there is federal money left over, some other Bibb schools in the feeder zones of the four high schools could receive some of it.

Bibb officials plan to meet Monday with state officials in Atlanta to address lingering grant questions and then submit the school board’s request to the state by April 15. The reform changes are set to start this fall.

The four schools, in order to continue receiving annual federal funding, would have to show between a 5 percent to 10 percent gain in testing and graduation rates. Statewide $122 million in federal funds is available for 23 school districts.