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Rochester School Leaders: 'Focus' Does Not Mean Failure

But the new state designation for schools with an achievement gap should not be downplayed, either, board of education members say.

When a school receives a designation like "Focus School," and when that designation is something brand new, there are bound to be some concerns — along with negative connotations.

That was the acknowledgement of Rochester Superintendent Fred Clarke, who explained the Focus School designation to Rochester Board of Education members on Monday night. 

Focus Schools were identified earlier this month by the Michigan Department of Education as the 10 percent of schools with the widest academic disparity between the top 30 percent of students and the bottom 30 percent. There are two other categories, too: Reward Schools are the top five percent of all Michigan schools and the top five percent making the greatest academic progress; Priority Schools are the lowest achieving schools in the state.

Rochester does not have any Priority Schools; eight schools were labeled Reward Schools and nine schools were labeled Focus Schools. 

(For more on our report of the rankings, read 8 Rochester Schools Named Reward Schools.)

Clarke on Monday said he was still trying to "get his hands around what it's all about," even after talking by phone to representatives from the MDE on Monday. He wasn't able to get any clear answers on the metrics used to categorize the schools; that's still to come in webinar presentations for school administrators, he said. 

But here is what Clarke does know about Focus Schools: 

  • Rewards: Districts are encouraged to highlight their Reward Schools and, specifically, some of the promising practices that they use. "So when you get a chance and see staff or administration from those buildings, give them a nod or a pat on the back," Clarke said.
  • So close: From what he can tell, Clarke said many other Rochester schools were very close to being on the Reward School list.
  • Differentiation: Focus Schools are specifically based on an achievement gap. In response to questions he has heard from parents, Clarke said the Focus Schools will not be expected to "water down" their curriculum to help the lowest performing students in those schools catch up. "Absolutely not," he said. "We will continue to differentiate.
  • Help for Focus: Focus Schools will be assigned a District Improvement Facilitator, also known as a "DIF." That person will assess the schools to see what, if anything, can be done differently to help close the achievement gap. Focus Schools will also have the option to identify 10 to 15 of the lowest-performing students and provide them with extra tutoring, mentoring, graduation coaches and outreach programs for their families.
  • Transfer option: On Wednesday, letters will be sent to parents of students in some Focus Schools letting them know that they have the option to transfer to another, non-Focus School. Those schools are , , and elementary schools and Middle School. Those are the Focus Schools that qualify for federal Title 1 grant funding that will help pay for the transportation of the students to another school. 

Geraldine Moore, the districts's assistant superintendent for instruction, noted that the district already has in place a "response to invervention" plan that addresses the achievement gap, and that in many cases, this gap was from 99 percent to between 70 and 75 percent.

"Focus does not mean failing," Moore said.

Rochester Board of Education member Gerald Moore expressed his concerns about that sentiment.

"To appear on the list really does tell a tale," he said. "All of the kids are not achieving at the same level. We've known for years that we've had this gap. We've got to figure out how to close the gap.

"Focus does not mean failure, but it is not to be downplayed."

Clarke said to remember the Focus School and other designations come from one school day in time, as the rankings are based on student performance on standardized tests. 

"It is a concern, but it is not something we can't overcome," Clarke said.

See related story from Monday night's meeting: . 

Debbie Clark August 14, 2012 at 12:51 PM
It's disheartening to me to read that our superintendent thinks the staff and administration from the "Reward" schools deserve a pat on the back from others. The difference here is not the practices used in any particular school, or the staff and administrators, but the demographics of Rochester and the students who attend certain schools. It is easy to close a gap that barely exsits in some schools. In other schools the gap is much larger. Rochester teachers meet regularily and use best practice in every school, so a statement like that is demeaning and unfair to those who work so hard every day to close the gap with the most needy students in the district.
michael St. John August 14, 2012 at 01:30 PM
What do Demographics have to do with anything?
Colleen August 14, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Thank you, Debbie! This is the issue with schools all over the United States. To compare how far teachers take kids in a school where the majority of the students are advantaged, with a school where children have less support for a variety of reasons, is apples to oranges. This is a societal problem that needs addressing more than an educational one.
Rochester Resident August 14, 2012 at 02:18 PM
You cannot ignore demographics in this situation, all of the "focus" schools are south of University Drive with the majority of them being in South to Southeast Rochester Hills. They should really look into seeing if that is an odd coincidence or if there is a reason why.
M.M. August 14, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Thanks Debbie- hit nail on the head. It's the same in Ucs-Troy etc. there's data to back this when you look at the MDE website powerpoints!! Along with internal data. We see it yet do nothing. Closing the gap may mean- re- districting, come down harder on attendance, educate parents who need support and pat on the back of the teachers AT the focus schools for the gains they DO make!Why isn't this happening?????? From experience, there are gains-just not fast enough. It takes time. Also-If you are at a bld with high population on ELL/ESL -which is HUGE issue- how do you close the gap? We have kids coming to us-all ages -with NO ENGLISH and many girls never had been allowed to attend school/ and then state mandates them to take the math MEAP? Come on!!!! They can't read- so there's another example of the gap. It will be interesting. UCS apparently hired an outside company to help solve the problem and that cost them $250k( yet they are broke)- so wait and see!! Focus schools already working hard- what's next?
Janet August 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Baldwin and Long Meadow Elementary Schools and Hart Middle School are all north of University.
Joshua Raymond August 14, 2012 at 08:16 PM
We very much need to be realistic. First, if certain groups are struggling because they are not getting the support at home, how much can the schools do to change how much they learn compared to students receiving that support? Are schools to shift resources away from kids who get home support to kids who don't? How much can we expect a teacher to compensate for a student who doesn't get homework support, goes home to hours of television instead of reading, or subsists on junk food? The parents need to take responsibility for making the home environment conducive to learning. The schools do have a responsibility to make sure that they are not treating different demographics of kids differently. We cannot have one race of students or economic level of students being given less education because of that characteristic. However, I have not heard any complaints of that in RCS. Many of the schools on the focus list do have widely varying demographics that have been shown to be on different ends of the achievement gap. Schools cannot close this achievement gap all by themselves nor should they be responsible to do so.
Joshua Raymond August 14, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Second, not all kids will achieve at the same level whether it's academics or athletics. I'm sure Mr. Moore doesn't expect all players at SportZ AllstarZ to be athletic superstars. From its website "This comes from a true passion to see that every child that participates with us reaches their maximum potential. This growth and development creates a positive experience for each child and is nurtured over the course of each of our unique programs." This should be true for academics as well. Each child should reach their maximum potential, not a common benchmark that may not be relevant for that child because it is too high or too low. Having growth and development will bring that positive experience to our schools instead of frustration at not meeting a standard out of reach or boredom brought on due to little growth and development after exceeding the standard. If a school is following what Mr. Moore set out for SportZ AllstarZ, they will have a higher achievement gap than a school that tries to just get everyone to a common benchmark. While the lowest 30% will be about the same, the top 30% will have risen, making the gap wider. They should not be penalized for that either by the state or the district. Fortunately, I do think Mr. Moore understands that and his comment may not reflect the totality of his views. Perhaps Mr. Moore could apply his sports philosophy to our district as we look every child that participates with us reaching their maximum potential.
Peter Griffin August 14, 2012 at 11:11 PM
at least Rochester Schools are not giving kids $85-$125 Nike shoes like the Detroit Public Schools, in order to attend school for count day....
Peter Griffin August 14, 2012 at 11:19 PM
speaking of demographics: I know a few families who went in together to rent an apartment in Rochester Hills just to get their children enrolled in Rochester Schools. (Hampton Apartments - South-east corner of Rochester Hills) Apartment managers need to make sure that only 1 family rents each unit to stop multiple families co-renting a cheap unit to get their kids into Rochester Schools. Also, didn't the kid who brought a gun to Rochester High last year come to live with his aunt in Rochester just so he could attend Rochester Schools?
Rochester Resident August 15, 2012 at 03:37 AM
That is correct, I was basing it off of the schools the article mentioned. The schools in this article are south of University were labeled focus schools and they also had a lower grade/score when the results came out. I agree with some of these comments, a lot of kids are struggling because the parents are not doing their part.
John Edwards August 15, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Everything really, but you already knew that.
Richard Happening August 21, 2012 at 12:59 AM
If he applies the philosophy of SportzAllStarz to RCS, those of you in Rochester/RCS are in trouble. SportzAllStarz is out of business, with unpaid bills in its wake.
Richard Happening August 21, 2012 at 01:09 AM
The school system is not giving away the shoes. A shoe store is. It is wrong for DPS to allow this, as it creates a fictitious number which effectively takes money from other districts. Schools are required by law to take attendance. Why can't an average attendance number be used to calculate funding? Why are there "count days"? Seems like yet another horrible way to allocate resources. But change is difficult, we know.

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