YAKIMA, Wash. — Federal money influenced an academic turnaround at Adams Elementary School, a point of pride with the Yakima School District. However, a similar distribution of funds has not improved math and reading scores at Washington Middle School as quickly as expected.
Tuesday night, the school’s continuing academic struggles became a focal point of the school board, which approved a plan detailing changes at Washington.
Separately and as expected, the board also approved the elimination of the senior culminating projects as a graduation requirement.
In 2010, Washington Middle School was awarded a three-year federal School Improvement Grant to improve academic performance among its sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. According to a recent report from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, improvement has been inconsistent. For example, the percentage of students meeting proficiency in math assessments improved over the three-year grant’s span; however, the percentage of students meeting proficiency in reading dropped in all three grades.
As a result, the state Board of Education identified Yakima as a Required Action District, which means at least one Yakima school — in this case, Washington — persistently underachieved for three consecutive years.
Washington Principal Bill Hilton presented and discussed some of the changes. Classes will start two days before the rest of the district to orientate students and staff on the new expectations. School days will be 30 minutes longer to accommodate an advisory class. Each student will have five 70-minute classes — lengthier periods than before.
“I’m not a betting man, but I think it’s safe to say that we are going to see some drastic changes there,” said board member Raymond Navarro. “We’re going to see an increase in graduates, increase in rigorous courses completion ... the culture is going to change.”
Efforts to involve parents will also be increased, said Hilton, the former principal of Franklin Middle School. One example is the implementation of an incentive program where parents get points for helping their children.
In other action, the school board agreed with the district’s plans to eliminate the senior culminating projects, only months after legislators voted to no longer require it as a state mandate. The change would be amended into the graduation requirements beginning with the 2014-15 seniors.
Lawmakers approved the adoption of culminating projects as state law in 2000 and they were implemented with the class of 2008. However, the Legislature passed a bill this spring that included an amendment to remove the projects as a state requirement and allow school districts to have the option to implement them.