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Kyrene Middle School struggles with Title I Designation

By: Mark Moorehead

November 10, 2007

Concern seems to be spreading among parents at Kyrene Middle School over a letter informing them that the school has failed to meet federal Title I learning standards and offering to transfer their children out of KMS to schools operating without restrictive Title I guidelines.

“It sounds like the situation (at KMS) is so bad that we need to consider getting our kids into another school,” said one parent who asked not to be identified.

Parents began to express their concerns after receiving a letter from Principal Susan Poole, dated Oct. 24, notifying them that KMS did not meet all requirements of the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind program.

While Poole noted that only special-education students failed to meet some of the required benchmarks, the law is specific in its policy allowing parents to opt for transfers when standards are not met by all those attending a given school.

In the case of KMS, parents have been advised that they can request a transfer to Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School in Chandler or Centennial Middle School in Ahwatukee, with the district picking up the costs of transportation.

The complex federal mandate on which Poole’s letter was based affects schools with a higher-than-average number of students experiencing language deficiencies and receiving free- or reduced-cost lunches, according to Carrie D. Furedy, administrator of the Kyrene district’s Title I program, which establishes the guidelines.

Although the majority of KMS students aren’t language impaired or receiving lunch assistance, federal regulations nonetheless impose a Title I restriction, which neither Pueblo nor Centennial has so far received.

While all KMS students passed the reading portion of tests given earlier this year, sixth-grade special-education students did not perform well in the math sections, which resulted in an “underperforming” rating, according to Furedy.

Enacted in January 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that Title I schools make “adequate yearly progress” in five specific categories, including math and reading. KMS first received the Title I designation last year and has been operating under Title I provisions since then.

Compliance with Title I guidelines requires at least 90 percent attendance, as well as testing of at least 95 percent of a school’s students in math and reading, and the requirement that they meet measurable objectives in those subjects.

According to results of this year’s testing, KMS failed to make adequate progress in two math categories within the sixth-grade special-education population. Consequently, facing underperforming scores, Poole was required by Title I provisions to make the transfer options available, officials say.

One possible complication to the transfer offer, Furedy noted, is that the number of students eligible to switch to Pueblo or Centennial is limited by the amount of dollars available to pay transportation costs.

Fortunately, she said, the district does not anticipate a significant exodus from KMS and fully expects that there will be adequate space and funding for students who do end up switching to either of the other schools.

As to how KMS finds itself in its current dilemma, some say it’s a result in part of the district’s efforts several years ago to utilize open enrollment as a tool to attract new students.

When charter schools started cutting into Kyrene’s pool of potential enrollees, and state funds began to diminish, district officials began recruiting in other, typically under-served communities nearby, including Maricopa and south Phoenix.

As a result, says Theresa Sweeney, the district’s director of curriculum assessment, the number of open-enrollment students at KMS has now reached at least 300, most of whom were recruited from districts with a much higher special-education population.

Thus, while KMS succeeded in increasing the per-pupil funding it receives from the state, it also became a Title I school with the requisite accountabilities, federal mandates and challenges of serving a large special-education population.

Under Title I, even as few as 40 students who fall into a school’s special population, a definition based on ethnicity, special-education needs or lack of English language skills, automatically forces the school to operate under the requisite guidelines.

With Title I restrictions now imposed on KMS, some worry that a long-term continuation of the designation could damage the district’s longstanding appeal to new residents and ultimately hurt property values.

That, however, seems unlikely, with other area school districts experiencing similar demographic changes.

“Schools all across the Valley are having to face the same problem,” said an administrator in another district.

“Kyrene is not in a unique situation; there isn’t a district (locally) that doesn’t have two (Title I) schools, and some have many more.”

To help prevent a recurrence of the problem next year, KMS plans to step up its efforts to monitor school attendance and ensure that all students are tested.

In the meantime, for KMS parents who wish to consider a transfer to Pueblo or Centennial, the request deadline is Nov. 28.

Additional information is available by calling KMS at (480) 783-1000.



Photo by David Stone


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