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Cox embarks on new path
The elementary school's first restructuring panel meets to plot an improvement plan.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 5, 2007
DADE CITY - Cox Elementary School entered a new era Thursday, one that many educators might prefer never happened - though they all put the best face on it that they could muster.
The occasion was Pasco County's first-ever school-level restructuring advisory committee meeting. The goal was to begin finding ways to change Cox Elementary if it fails to meet federal achievement standards just one more time.
Cox has yet to make "adequate yearly progress" since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2002. It received a D in the state's school grading system last year.
Hudson Elementary, which received a C from the state and never has made adequate yearly progress, also faces restructuring if it does not improve. Its advisory committee meets today.
Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly, who led Thursday's session, said the educators and parents involved will be learning as they go. In the end, she said, they hope to improve the school while creating a process that others in the same boat could follow in the future.
The tension in the air was evident as Reilly reviewed Cox's options. These included increasing district oversight, restructuring into "smaller learning communities," replacing teachers and replacing the principal.
"We give all our information to the district already. What more are they going to do?" teacher Kathy Chois asked.
"One of our concerns is, how is it going to look as we move staff around?" wondered teachers union vice president Kim McLaughlin. "How is it going to all play out?"
Reilly acknowledged that the group had more questions than she had answers. She also recognized the anxiety. But she assured everyone that they would be partners over the next several months as they come up with a recommendation for the School Board. The only thing the committee won't be able to weigh in on is principal Leila Mizer's fate, Reilly said - that's the superintendent's call.
She did reveal a few plans for Cox already in the works.
First, the district will continue implementing Learning Focused Strategies. That should account for the requirement that a school facing restructuring must hire a consultant with a demonstrated track record to provide professional development.
Second, she said, the district wants to add more prekindergarten services to Cox because "our children in this area are coming in significantly less ready." Details are still under construction.
Third, the district plans to increase its oversight and monitoring of Cox. Reilly did not offer specifics.
After her overview, Reilly turned the meeting over to the committee, which included several teachers, some parents and representatives of most district-level departments. They spent time in small groups, looking at areas where they think restructuring efforts should be focused.
They used a list prepared earlier by the Cox teachers as a jumping-off point. That list was so thorough and creative it prompted staff development director Marti Meacher to say that in her years with the district, she had not encountered a staff so committed to its community.
Broadly, the areas the committee will consider include:
-Changing the school schedule, possibly to an extended school day or year.
-Increasing parental involvement.
-Adopting new strategies to instruct children who still are learning English.
-Improving the school image.
-Redrawing attendance zones to mix up the Cox student demographic, which currently is about 95 percent poor and 90 percent minority.
The underlying hope is that Cox meets the federal mark this year and does not have to restructure. But even if it misses, Reilly said, the district still might want to put some of the best ideas into play.
"Their (achievement) pattern has been up and down," she said. "We want to boost them so they stay up."
Mizer called the discussion "wonderful" for the teachers and parents to have.
"It's very enlightening to hear the different perspectives," said Mizer, who has led Cox for more than a decade. "It makes me feel like we're all in this together."
Chois, too, found the conversation encouraging.
"It's never discouraging to see all different levels of professionals, as well as parents, get together to discuss improving something," she said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.