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Audit stirs up parents; Maumelle Middle School doesn’t make the grade

Several Maumelle parents of Maumelle Middle School students are upset over a state audit of the school that they said shows the school failing in more areas than it passes.

Russ Galbraith said he’s just one of several parents who were so concerned when they learned of the audit conducted last fall that they created a Facebook page to call attention to the issues and to help organize parents.

The page is called Demand Better Schools, Maumelle and although it is less than two weeks old it already has nearly 200 likes and plenty of postings about perceived problems at the school.

Galbraith said one look at the results chart prepared by the Arkansas Department of Education shows how the school is performing.

“Red is an indicator of failure and the chart is full of red,” he said.

Those same parents are also upset that it took them so long to learn about the results of the audit while one of the state’s recommendations is that the audit results be widely shared with parents and the community and their support be enlisted to help the school get better.

Jerry Guess, superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District said while the school did rate poorly in several areas, most students at the school are still doing exceptional work.

The state changed its method of assessment; Guess said and placed more emphasis on a small segment of non-performing students.

It was a tough evaluation and its findings are factual but the emphasis simply changed, he said.

Still, he said he welcomed the evaluation by a team of highly qualified educators and the district is planning on helping the school overcome the deficiencies noted.

Guess said he knows and respects the team members and appreciates the job they did finding problems. He said they were tough and looked hard to find problems and areas that needed improvement.

He said the district’s job is to correct those deficiencies.

Maumelle Middle School has enjoyed a reputation as one of the best, if not the best middle school in Arkansas.

How did it go from being a top school to one needing much improvement?

Guess said the state department of education is now taking a more global perspective and developed a new accountability system.

The subgroups that scored poorly have always performed at about the same level. By the same token the majority of students at the school are performing much better than average and that hasn’t changed.

What has changed Guess said is that the state is using a new standard where the lower performing group of students is attracting much more attention and is the focus of the state.

The state has also created a sense of urgency and highlighted the performance of a subgroup of students that historically hasn’t done well for a variety of reasons.

The state expects the district to bring that performance level up much higher and the district welcomes suggestions from the state, especially the audit team on how it can accomplish that, he said.

The audit team has his utmost respect as professionals and they looked hard to find areas that can be improved.

He also said he also welcomed the input and attention of Maumelle parents.

“Every school needs to improve,” Guess said.

He said especially those who have such a gap between the best students and those who need the most help.

The audit has been helpful in focusing attention on what needs to be done, he said. But he also noted the district “already knew what needed to be done.”

This new system of accountability will be focused on bridging that gap between the best and brightest students and those who need more help.

What the audit does is identify Maumelle Middle School as a focus school, he said.

The school historically has had several special education classrooms for students who have those needs and he said he’s proud the school has taken a lead in providing that training and education to special education students. He said the school should help all students in their area where they have the greatest need for improvement.

The audit that was conducted last October is designed to be used by school staff to create a better accountability program and to use its recommendations to improve at all levels, he said.

Guess urged parents not to lose sight that the school still has a “lot of kids performing at a high level” and those students will be challenged to do even better and won’t be hurt by the emphasis on the poorer performing students.

Some of the parents who have commented publicly worry though that their brighter students may be held back and that the level of instruction will be “dumbed down.”

Guess reassured parents that is not the case. He said brighter students wouldn’t suffer because they try and do a better job for the students who need the most help.

While he said he thinks it’s unfair to label such a good school as needing so much improvement, he said he understands and supports the efforts to improve the quality of education for all students.

The new evaluation system is a different ballgame than what educators and parents have experienced in the past and he said there’d be a learning curve for everyone involved.

He also said he hopes parents will get more involved in their children’s schools and take a much more aggressive interest in watching what their own child is doing and how they are performing.

The new system is a positive if it results in more participation on the part of parents, he said.

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