Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chula Vista school’s turnaround turns head

How did CVESD do it? Maybe this story offers a clue, since there has been no real change in how the district approaches education.

Chula Vista school’s turnaround turns head
Elementary charter has gone from federal improvement list to distinguished status
November 23, 2011

A charter school in Chula Vista was performing so poorly on state assessments that it made the federal watch list for three years. Now it has staged a dramatic turnaround that is attracting international attention.

Today, the 822-student school has test scores among the highest in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and has been recognized as a California Distinguished School. The dual-language immersion campus has become a type of laboratory where professors from San Diego State University as well as educators from Mexico, England and Switzerland visit, hoping to discover the secret to its success.

Chula Vista Learning Community Charter, which was on the federal “program improvement” list until 2008, has raised its Academic Performance Index scores from 680 in 2005 to 880 in 2011, exceeding the state goal of 800. Every March, hundreds of parents converge on its parking lot to submit applications, with some camping overnight. Last spring, 320 applicants were turned away.

At this school, everyone has a role in the education of children.

Teachers are encouraged to be “teacher scholars” and are expected to keep up with research being done in the field of education. Parent involvement is a high priority, with parents required to volunteer 30 hours a year, including attending parent meetings where administrators offer tips for helping with homework and review lessons their children are being taught.

Students at the school take half their courses in English and half in Spanish each day, and also get weekly instruction in Mandarin, a third language added two years ago. About 95 percent of students at the K-8 school are Latino, with about 53 percent English-language learners and about half come from families poor enough they qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Parents say they like the school for the language immersion and rigorous instruction. Martha Garcia, whose 4-year-old daughter is in kindergarten, said she’s pleased so far. “She reads already in both languages,” Garcia said.

Those who cannot meet the time commitment are asked to leave. “We are a choice school. You choose to be here,” said school Director Jorge Ramirez.

The campus’ turnaround caught the eye of researchers at San Diego State University who were looking at schools that have had success in closing the achievement gap.

SDSU professor Cristina Alfaro is among a team of seven SDSU researchers with the College of Education with expertise in literacy, biliteracy, administration and child development who are studying every aspect of the school — from how its administrators lead staff to how teachers collaborate and develop curriculum to better target the backgrounds of their students.

Alfaro said teachers at the school work closely together, analyze test data to see where gaps exist and alter teaching plans to shore up weak areas.

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