After three years of spending a total of $4.5 million in a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), Everett Middle School saw its 7th grade standardized test scores jump by more than 20 percent in English Language Arts and 41 percent in Math.
In the next year, the school will get an indication of whether the gains can be sustained and improved on without the extra cash.
The grant ends this fall and already some of the school’s successful SIG-funded programs have ended. The technology coordinator, who helped maintain programs and equipment, will not return, and the school’s family liaison was cut to a part-time position. Everett was granted an extension to continue spending SIG funding through December 2014 because it got a late state allocation of money in the 2010-2011 school year. That means that it will be able to hold onto many of its SIG-supported positions and programs into this year.
When the funding finally runs out, says Lena Van Haren, the former assistant principal who took over this year as principal, the 420-student middle school will keep the same priorities.
These include: building a “culture of literacy” for students through classroom libraries and a well-curated list of assigned readings; avoiding teacher burnout by emphasizing staff development and wellness; and encouraging positive student character attributes such as integrity, teamwork and social intelligence.
The school is “in a completely different place” than it was just four years ago, Van Haren said brightly. “It used to be a place that families were not interested in sending their children to, and now families are happy to be placed at Everett.”
She says the change happened quickly. “I attribute that to a lot of things, but one of the big things is the really hard work of our staff and teachers,” she said.
According to SFUSD enrollment data, 14 percent of fifth grade students in the 2011-2012 school year requested Everett as their first choice middle school. In the 2012-2013 school year, fifth grade first-choice requests for Everett jumped to 24 percent.
Just five years ago, says Assistant Principal Jennifer Kuhr, the school was run-down and suffering from high teacher turnover and low standardized test scores.
“Students were coming here and getting worse,” Kuhr acknowledged alongside Van Haren in a cluttered conference room. “Our teachers were in survival mode, putting paper over their windows to barricade kids in the classroom because of the chaos outside.”
The SIG money mandated that Everett make some pretty significant changes. Most notably, the school had to replace 50 percent of its teachers and hire a new crop through a rigorous interview process. Kuhr says this helped change the teaching culture at Everett. They had been feeling the impacts of high office-staff turnover, which included administration, coaches, secretaries and counselors. The people who were expected to hold the school’s institutional knowledge – essentially, to keep it running—were leaving.
“It was like a revolving door,” Kuhr said. “Nothing was sticking, no one was accountable…There were pockets of excellence, but it was happening in individual classrooms.”
Along with the new flow of SIG funds came promises from administration to calm the school’s hallways and create a learning environment where teachers could uncover their windows and unlock their doors.
Of course, the extra cash didn’t hurt either. With more money, Everett had the resources to purchase new books, hire a literacy coach, hire more counselors and tutors and expand after-school programs.
Shortly after, students began to make big gains in state-administered standardized test scores. In 2010, a meager 13 percent of eighth grade students and just four percent of seventh grade students scored proficient or advanced in the California State (STAR) Mathematics test. In 2013, that number climbed to 35 percent for eighth graders and 45 percent for seventh graders.
Similar leaps were made in English Language Arts. Eighth grade scores rose from 18 percent proficiency in 2010 to 22 percent in 2013. And seventh grade results more than doubled: from 20 percent in 2010 to 42 percent in 2013.
Despite the improvements, Everett did not meet the overall Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Criteria as required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2010, 2011 or 2012. While scores still fell below the average statewide, administration says it’s important to acknowledge students’ annual STAR gains.
Like all administration in a cash-strapped school/district/state, Van Haren is sad to see the SIG funding go. But she’s confident that Everett created systems that will outlive the grant money, and is on track to continue improving – especially with new funding from the Mission Promise Grant, which will infuse $30 million into four Mission schools (including Everett) over the next five years.
“It feels good this year,” Van Haren said. “I feel like we’re starting to be a place where there are systems and structures in place, and the new teachers we had coming in this year fall in line with that culture perfectly.”