Sunset Lake Elementary Named a Focus School by Michigan Dept. of Ed

By Sue Moore

Jamie Masco, an instructional consultant at SunsetSchool who helped forge the plan for improvement along with Principal Pat Moreno and Grant Chandler of the MSU College of Education, look over the brochure that describes the focus school effort at Sunset Lake School.
Jamie Masco, an instructional consultant at SunsetSchool who helped forge the plan for improvement along with Principal Pat Moreno and Grant Chandler of the MSU College of Education, look over the brochure that describes the focus school effort at Sunset Lake School.

Jamie Masco, an instructional consultant at SunsetSchool who helped forge the plan for improvement along with Principal Pat Moreno and Grant Chandler of the MSU College of Education, look over the brochure that describes the focus school effort at Sunset Lake School.

Jamie Masco, an instructional consultant at SunsetSchool who helped forge the plan for improvement along with Principal Pat Moreno and Grant Chandler of the MSU College of Education, look over the brochure that describes the focus school effort at Sunset Lake School.

So, what’s a focus school anyway, a concerned grandmother asked the Vicksburg Board of Education at its September meeting?  She was referring to this declaration for Sunset Lake Elementary school in 2012 and most recently 2013.

Dr. Grant Chandler, who has been the on-site representative from the Department of Education’s MIExcel program, led the board’s discussion in October of what this means to schools in the state and how Vicksburg is responding to the designation.

Over 2,800 schools in Michigan were ranked (another 700 did not get included) from top to bottom for student performance on the MEAP tests taken in the fall of 2011 and 2012.  Evaluators looked at the gap between performance at the top and bottom of each school, scored them on a bell curve with the 10 percent of schools having the largest gap in achievement on the tests, labeled a focus school.  Approximately 300 schools fell into this category he reported, Sunset Lake being one of them.

Even though this school had some very high achievers, it also had some very low scoring students, thus the gap.  The challenge, he said, was how to bring up the bottom tier to close the gap in all phases of academics when Sunset has the highest population of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities in the District.  Why focus on the gap?  The Federal requirement makes very clear if children are not being successful, then it is challenging school systems to do something about it.

Because Sunset is a Title I building, it is eligible for Chandler’s help and that of the contracting agency which is the Michigan State University, College of Education, Office of k-12 Outreach.  He has been working with staff in the whole district to come up with an action plan that is being implemented system wide with special attention to Sunset’s needs, he said.

Chandler complemented the district for its dedication to improvement by latching on to the training from its field specialist.  At Sunset, the staff has planned a whole series of interventions, with a long list of things they are doing when they first looked at the data passed on from the state.  They explored the data in three phases and once the analysis took place, began to put together their action plan of “Big Ideas” which has been implemented for the 2013/14 school year.  “They have made something good, come out of a perceived negative,” Chandler stated in his report to the school board.  “This school has now become the model for a brochure that we use to help many of the other school systems as they face this process of improvement.  It is causing schools to look with greater intensity than they have ever looked before.  Vicksburg’s motto is ‘Success for every student, whatever it takes’, and they are doing it,” he concluded.

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