first_imgwww.learningfirst.orgNational education advocates are taking notice of a successful program that helped raise the test scores of Vancouver’s poorest students.Vancouver Public Schools in 2010 established a so-called “opportunity zone” containing 14 schools with the highest percentages of children living in poverty in the district. Officials spent extra effort and money on those schools, both in the classroom and in parent outreach.The opportunity zone’s success this week grabbed the attention of a national group called Learning First Alliance. The initiative also will be discussed at a national conference for administrators of a federal anti-poverty program later this month.The opportunity zone in part sprang out of a failed attempt at getting federal money in exchange for reforms. In 2010, Discovery and Jason Lee middle schools landed in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, as measured by their students’ performance on math and reading tests averaged over three years. It wasn’t the first time the schools made that list, which earned them a “tier II” designation by the feds and the right to apply for school improvement grants. Schools have to lay out plans for drastic change to get the grants, and Vancouver school officials promised to reassign principals and hold teachers accountable for their students’ scores if they got the money. But they didn’t get the grant.That setback spurred administrators’ creativity.How it happenedThe schools in the opportunity zone received additional teacher training, computer technology for classrooms and tutoring sessions after school. But the district also addressed some of the root causes of the low-income students’ low performance. The two middle schools that were on the bottom of the performance list are among those with the highest percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty, said Associate Superintendent Christine Burgess.Officials set up nine family-community resource centers — or FCRCs. Paid staff and volunteers at those centers taught parenting classes, served as liaisons between parents and social service agencies, and even organized food banks. They also provided early-childhood schooling.last_img

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