Solving the Poly Puzzle
Members of the Poly Alumni Association, including (left to right) president William Kelly, Pat Rochelle, and Phil Crow, are helping current students succeed.
Linares: “Poly has been on a roller coaster.”
Breed: “I’m at Poly so often ... that I need an office there.”
Sorum: “We can accurately identify the students who are struggling.”
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A long list of players are helping put the vaunted Eastside school back together again — but time’s running out.
By BETTY BRINK photos by naomi vaughan
Jerry Stevenson was hurrying down the hall at Polytechnic High School, trying to slip into homeroom before the tardy bell rang, when he felt a large hand clamp down on his shoulder.
He looked up to see the school principal towering above him.
“Jerry, come on in the office,” Gary Braudaway said. Stevenson’s knees shook for a second. But it wasn’t fear of punishment that had set his slight freshman frame to quaking — it was stage fright. “You’re the speaker this morning,” Braudaway told him.
An “inspirational moment,” broadcast over the public address system each morning, is just one of the changes that Braudaway instituted when he took over as principal at the troubled high school in southeast Fort Worth in 2006. It might sound a bit corny to outsiders, but Stevenson was in awe at being the first freshman ever chosen for what has become a high-status moment for students. Stevenson’s words were personal, describing his gratitude for how the school has been “like a family” to him, he said.
Braudaway began the tradition as a way to motivate the students, develop their leadership skills, and bind them together as a caring family. “When they hear their fellow students urging them to study hard and stay in school, it means a lot more than it does coming from me,” he said. The speaker is usually an upperclassman, sometimes a teacher, or occasionally someone from the community.
Inspirational words of the day and making students feel part of a family might not have seemed the tactics most likely to succeed when Braudaway arrived at Poly. He faced a demoralized faculty and a hardscrabble student body, with test scores that were too low, drop-out rates that were too high, poor attendance, poorer morale, and an ongoing exodus of good teachers. The once-mighty 100-strong Poly marching band had shrunk to seven members. And most crucial, the storied school, built three-quarters of a century ago on one of the highest points on the East Side, the alma mater of some of Fort Worth’s most prominent names, was failing its students academically. Passing rates on state-mandated achievement tests were putting the school at risk of serious, perhaps fatal, sanctions.
Two and a half years later, things have changed dramatically for the better at the high school on the hill. Attendance, scores, morale, and even alumni involvement are on the upswing. Parents are actively taking part in their kids’ education again. In a school where three-fourths of the students are listed as economically disadvantaged, every kid in a small group pulled randomly from the hall on a recent day said they intend to go to college.
But the good news may be too little too late. The school, despite its recent progress, has been rated “academically unacceptable” by the state education agency for four years in a row. One more year at a low rating, and by law the school must either be closed permanently or completely restructured academically, perhaps even receiving a new name. This is Poly’s drop-dead year, and as this story was being edited on Tuesday, the students were taking the first of four make-or-break tests. Results for the March test on English and language arts will be available in April; that same month, students will take the final three exams in math, science, and social studies.
Even as that happens, Fort Worth school district officials and local legislators are mounting a campaign in Austin to bore an escape hole for Poly in the state regulations — or at least to win the school a little breathing room in recognition of its better-if-not-yet-good-enough progress. And beyond the efforts of Braudaway and his staff and students, the district has begun a number of efforts, some aimed at poor-performing schools across Fort Worth, others specifically at Poly, to improve student performance and increase the schools’ chances of making the grade. None of that, of course, answers the question of how Poly was allowed to fall this far for this long before the alarm bells went off.
But senior Davion Thornton and other students interviewed by Fort Worth Weekly are convinced they will come through. “We will make it,” Thornton said.
For the 700 members of the Poly Alumni Association, losing the school’s name would be like wiping out their history, William Kelly said. The association president (Class of ’55) said his group is working closely with Braudaway and the district to help save the school — and not just to preserve the name or their own memories.
“We believe in the kids there now,” Kelly, 71, said, “and we believe in what Gary’s doing to turn the school around.” The teachers Braudaway has hired, he said, are “tireless.” The school makeup has changed dramatically since 1955, when it was totally white. Enrollment is now about 64 percent Hispanic, a third black, and 2 percent white.
Kelly said he has seen an almost miraculous change at the school in the last two years. He and other association members have monitored the students’ progress by working closely with Braudaway and through the alumni group’s scholarship program, which gives out two $1,000 awards each year. “The reason [for the turnaround] is Gary and his faculty,” Kelly said. He believes they have revived the school’s “Poly pride” spirit, which is reflected in the progress the students are making. “It would be disastrous to the kids to take that away now,” he said.
Over coffee at the Old South Pancake House, where the group holds monthly meetings, Kelly and fellow graduates Patsy Rochelle and Phil Crow expressed their anger at what might happen.
“There is so much history between Poly and Fort Worth, we can’t let them change the name. It would be like the school never existed,” Rochelle said.
Poly’s Georgian Revival-style red brick building was designed by one of Fort Worth’s most famous architects, Joseph Pelich, who created dozens of the city’s landmark structures, including the original Casa Mańana Theatre. Poly was built in 1937 on one of the highest bluffs on the East Side, in the historic Polytechnic Heights neighborhood, with funds from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. It was soon dubbed the Beacon on the Hill. Its history makes it eligible to be designated a National Historic Monument.
The historic area was first settled in 1857 by Kentuckians Arch and W. D. Hall and their brother-in-law Roger Tandy. In 1890 the men donated land for Polytechnic College, meaning a school for the industrial arts and applied sciences. The college eventually became Texas Wesleyan University.
In the years that the class of 1955 was growing up there, the mostly blue-collar community thrived with mom-and-pop businesses like the memorable Ashburn’s Ice Cream and Burge Hardware. Burge is still there, but all that remains of the oncefamous ice cream store is its sign.
In the late 1960s, the area began a long, slow decline. TWU sociology professor Sara Horsfall wrote in a paper about the area, published in 2005, that during those years racial tensions ran high as blacks moved in and whites moved out — after failing to stop the changing color of their neighborhoods by forming thinly disguised anti-black groups such as the Greater Poly Civic League. With the white exodus went most of the established businesses. But by the mid-1980s, Horsfall wrote, the blacks, many of whom had been able to buy their homes there, were also moving out, “leaving the area to low-income renters” mostly Hispanic, in houses owned by absentee landlords who did nothing to keep up the once-proud old homes. “Abandoned houses, drugs, gangs and … crime were endemic. [It was] one of the worst inner-city areas in the country,” she wrote, and one of the poorest.
The turbulent 1960s, when public schools in Texas were being integrated, began “30 years of blight and neglect of public education on the East Side,” said Fort Worth minister and activist Kyev Tatum, a graduate of Trimble Tech High School and now its alumni association president.
Tatum’s brother graduated from Poly in the early 1980s. Kyev, who won a football scholarship that helped him get a college degree, said his brother wasn’t so lucky. “He didn’t get the education he needed to prepare him for college, so he went to work for the county right out of high school.” Tatum calls the school district’s attitude then and now toward the kids in its inner-city, poor, and minority schools one of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” When children realize that they are not expected to excel, they won’t, Tatum said.
The schools and the neighborhood suffered as the city also turned its back, ignoring the deterioration and seldom enforcing the city’s housing codes. Abandoned houses and businesses became the norm. Only in the past few years has the city begun to encourage redevelopment there, but even now stores along Vaughn Boulevard are still boarded up, giving the once-thriving street an eerie war-zone look. The buildings along Rosedale Avenue that housed Ashburn’s, Mott’s, a grocery store, and several small shops in the area’s heyday have been refurbished and are waiting for tenants, but so far few have come. Still, the now-predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood seems to be making a slow comeback; houses are being restored along many streets, and crime is down dramatically, according to city statistics.
The school has had help along the way. TWU has long taken an interest by offering scholarships to Poly students with good grades.
The alumni association got deeply involved in the school again “about four or five years ago,” Rochelle said. Many members were retiring; with more time on their hands, they began to visit the school and found that a lot of the school’s traditions had been abandoned and that academics were suffering. Several association members attended the first meeting called by the former principal when the school hit its first “unacceptable” rating four years ago.
“We knew we had to do what we could,” Rochelle said, and the scholarship fund was started. The group was also disturbed to learn that the students had no clue as to Poly’s illustrious history (it was state champion two years in a row in the ’50s, in baseball and basketball, for example, Crow said) or about the many grads who have contributed to the city’s history.
Crow, a 30-year employee of KTVT/Channel 11, was operations manager and executive producer of Texas Rangers baseball for about 20 of those years. The late Jim “Hoss” Brock, the voice of the Cotton Bowl for more than a quarter of a century, was a Poly graduate. So are two former Fort Worth mayors, Hugh Parmer and Ken Barr. Former Fort Worth school board president Dr. Richard O’Neal graduated from Poly, as did Fort Worth authors Phil Vinson and Mike Nichols. (Vinson’s first book, Ink in the Blood, is a boyhood memoir of Poly in the late 1950s.) A whole slew of graduates went on from the school’s exceptional journalism department to write for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Poly also produced Kenneth Copeland, one of the nation’s most colorful, controversial, and wealthiest televangelists.
“Ken didn’t show much of that kind of holiness when we were in high school,” Kelly said, laughing. “He liked to sing ‘Old Man River’ and ride a motorcycle.”
A more recent graduate, Thomas Herrion, was a football star and scholar who went on to fame with the San Francisco 49ers. Then in August 2005, at the height of his football career, Herrion collapsed and died after finishing a game in Denver. The whole school mourned with his Fort Worth family.
The three older alumni group members said they will do everything they can to save the school that laid the foundation for their own successes. “Every one of our classmates graduated from college,” Crow said. “That’s what we want for the kids there now.”
On that recent morning when the hand landed on his shoulder, Stevenson took the mic and encouraged his schoolmates to do well on their upcoming achievement tests and said what the school meant to him. “My friends, they told me it was good,” he said later.
“Better than good,” Braudaway said. “He was great.”
Stevenson’s reference to being part of a family at Poly might be part of the reason the principal liked the young man’s performance. Braudaway’s philosophy at the majority-minority school is bearing fruit, the principal said.
“Most of our kiddos’ parents are so busy trying to make ends meet that we have to be their family,” he said. “For these kids to succeed, we have to give them a sense of pride in their accomplishments, their school, and the knowledge that they are part of a family that cares for every one of them. … We get them to believe in their own possibilities.” But, he added, it takes three to five years to bring about complete change in a troubled school, and he may not have that long.
“Poly has been on a roller coaster, up and down academically for a number of years,” said Deputy Superintendent Pat Linares, a 13-year district veteran. “Without a highly successful leader, it became a low-performing school.”
But Poly still managed to pass the state’s earlier academic achievement tests, known as the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS. Then along came legislation in 1998 requiring the Texas Education Agency to adopt tougher standards in all subjects and imposing more stringent passing criteria in a new test known as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. Schools all over the state fell into a TAKS hole, including Poly.
State data show that Poly’s test scores have risen consistently since 2003 but not enough to get it off of the state’s endangered-schools list. Part of the reason is that the state keeps adjusting the acceptable passing rate. “It’s a moving target,” a frustrated Braudaway said. Last year the school missed an acceptable rating by the margin of nine students’ test scores, out of 975 students in all.
Thornton, the senior who is so adamant that Poly will make the grade this year, ranks fifth in his class academically and has a full scholarship to Texas A&M University next year. He will be the first in his family to go to college. Still, fifth is not good enough for his mother, he said with a smile. “She told me I could do better.”
Not all of the students at Poly have such motivators at home. But that too is changing. Parental involvement at the school has increased dramatically since he took over, Braudaway said. The year before he came, only about 30 parents showed up at PTA meetings. His first meeting drew 75 parents, the second one 150, and more than 200 parents attended the 2008 fall open house.
What has made the difference? “We motivate the parents [to get involved] through the kids,” he said. “And we keep them informed about what their kids are doing and what’s going on at the school. We call with good news, not just the bad. We involve the parents and the community.” Braudaway shows up at every sports game; his teachers are active in the school’s extracurricular activities, and they also work with the parents through the neighborhood churches, he said, setting up after-school tutoring sessions, for example. “Each of my teachers is a mentor,” he said.
Braudaway, who spent 14 years as a classroom teacher, didn’t completely reconstitute the staff at Poly when he took over, but he did make sure he kept only the teachers who were dedicated to the kids. “The first thing I look for when I interview a teacher is a heart for kids,” he said. He disagreed with a suggestion that too many inexperienced teachers had led to some of Poly’s woes, as critics have charged. “Experience is important, but it’s not always what a school needs,” he said. “In a school like Poly, you also need teachers with fresh bright eyes and a ‘change-the-world’ attitude, and I have found them.”
The students interviewed were almost worshipful in their praise of Braudaway and their teachers and coaches over the past two years. Timothy Johnson, a senior and a football player who is heading for college, said his coaches have been “great mentors” who care as much about them becoming “great young men” as about winning on the field.
“The teachers put more effort into teaching than they did before Mr. Braudaway came,” he said. Johnson told of one teacher who, working after school as a volunteer tutor, started crying as she told her students how badly she wanted to help them pass the tests.
“It was never like this before,” said Damian Thornton, Davion’s younger brother. “Not many seemed to care about us and the [former] principal never came out of his office.”
Damian, a junior, said that the students will pass the TAKS because “We’ve become a part of this school now. It’s the spirit of the school that motivates us. We know we can do it.”
Krina Rodriguez, a junior and a member of the softball team, joined the chorus of optimists. “We will pass this year, I’m sure,” she said. “School is better now — we’re ready.”
Early in his freshman year at Poly, Damian said he wanted to leave the school because it was such a negative place. But he’s glad now that he stayed. “Kids are participating more in extracurricular activities. ... Our band is growing again.” Under band director Ronnie Sanford, band membership has grown from seven to 50.
Damion is a crew leader in the LINK program that uses junior and senior students to help incoming freshmen transition to high school, another Braudaway initiative. The group puts on a workshop to teach the freshmen about the school and then mentors them throughout the year.
Braudaway and his staff also invest major effort in assuring that kids get to class. When attendance is checked and the absentees are identified, Braudaway and a crew of vice-principals and coaches call to see why each kid isn’t in school. If there isn’t a parent at home, or if there’s no good excuse for the student’s absence, “We go get ’em,” he said.
“They actually come to our homes and knock on our doors to see why we’re not there,” Johnson said. “That makes us feel like they really care about us. We respect that.”
During the reporter’s visit, a vice-principal popped into Braudaway’s office to report that the day’s attendance was 96 percent, about par for this school year, Braudaway said.
What the students don’t like is all the negative publicity Poly has gotten lately. “So many things are going right, but if all you know about Poly is what you read in the paper, you only hear about the bad,” Damian said.
Braudaway said this week that Texas A&M has deemed Poly a “priority one” school — a sort of “adopt-a-school” designation that means A&M will have recruiters on campus, provide scholarships, and encourage kids to excel. The principal said he’d been told A&M is so pleased with the performance of recent Poly graduates that the college wants more of them.
Linares said Poly was in need of “serious changes” when Braudaway was asked by Superintendent Melody Johnson to take over the school and get it back on track. He would be the third principal to try since 2000. His job, in part, was to “change the culture of the school, build his own school culture that would give the people pride in their school again,” she said. “In that he’s done an excellent job.”
Associate Superintendent Sherry Breed is the director of a new district initiative begun last fall that the administrators hope will make a difference at Poly and 15 other schools that are in academic trouble. It is called PEAK — Public Educators Accelerating Kids. Breed is giving Poly “extensive support” in implementing the program, she said. “I’m at Poly so often discussing the plan with the dean of instruction that I need an office there,” she joked.
PEAK is a pilot program with money from the state and matching funds from the district that financially rewards teachers for their students’ academic growth. But Breed was quick to point out that, unlike other incentives, the program encourages collaboration between teachers, not competition, so that the whole school benefits. Pluses for the teachers include five additional days of pay per school year, more clerical support, and mentoring and master-teacher coaches for new teachers. Poly is getting even more intensive help with the addition of campus test coordinators and additional instructional support for each academic content area through teacher specialists assigned to Poly to “teach teachers,” Breed said.
At the Fort Worth district headquarters, Linares, Breed, and other administrators sat around a conference table trying to explain to a reporter what happened to Poly, who is responsible, and what the district is doing to save one of the city’s oldest schools.
In a worst-case scenario, the district has proposed that if the education commissioner does close the school, the district be allowed to reopen it as a gender-based academy, boys on one side, girls on the other. Melanie Henson, of the secondary leadership department, said that the coursework would be distinct for each group but that the kids would be allowed to mingle freely in the common areas during lunch and extracurricular activities.
“There is no wiggle room in this,” said Linares. “The [education] commissioner is bound by the law as it is written. He may not want to close the school. He may want to give us more time to turn Poly around, but his hands are tied.”
No one at the table was quite sure why the law forces a name change, unless it is to start a new culture and history at a school and remove any taint of failure, one said. None thought the idea had merit.
The administrators laid much of the blame for Poly’s woes at the state’s doorstep. “The accountability system is very complicated,” Linares said. Test results are first tallied for all students. Then the passing rates of specific racial and economic classes are separated out. “If any one of those [groups] fails to meet the passing standard, the whole school fails,” she said. And the bar for passing is being raised five percentage points each year, which frustrates the administrators as much as it does Braudaway.
Other factors that the schools have no control over include a requirement in the federal No Child Left Behind law — an initiative of the George W. Bush administration — that special-education students be mainstreamed into the classrooms of their age group and take the tests alongside them; their scores become part of the overall pass/fail rate.
When the reporter commented that such a system seemed designed for failure, the room exploded into laughter. “You said it — we didn’t,” Linares said.
“We welcome accountability,” Linares said. “We just want a more fair system, one that recognizes the growth of a school [like Poly] and isn’t based solely on a pass/fail system.”
All of the administrators had high praise for Braudaway’s efforts at Poly. “He has done a good job at hiring the right kind of people,” said chief academic officer Michael Sorum, who has been with the district since 2005. “But all that goes out the door when a school reaches that magic number five. … We want some flexibility. We have done the research. There are cases where one student can turn a cell ‘red’ and the whole school fails.”
Fort Worth legislator Marc Veasey has filed a bill this year to give local school administrators some of that flexibility. Supported by State Rep. Lon Burnam, whose district includes the Poly attendance zone, the bill would prohibit the state from changing Poly’s name and would extend the time that a school has to pass the TAKS as long as the school raises its scores each year, as Poly has been doing.
In late February, State Sen. Florence Shapiro, chair of the senate education committee, and Rep. Rob Eisseler introduced legislation that addresses the fairness and flexibility issue. If passed, it will replace the state’s current school accountability system based on annual standardized testing with one based on charting individual students’ progress over time. The problem for Poly and most of the low-performing schools is that even if it becomes law, the measure won’t be implemented until 2011.
Fort Worth school officials, including Johnson and Linares, have been making regular trips to Austin to lobby for Veasey’s bill, and members of the Poly alumni group have sent letters and e-mails urging their legislators to support it.
But the 800-pound elephant is still in the room: Why did the district wait so long to take drastic action on Poly?
Breed said that five years ago the district’s emphasis was already on Poly and other troubled schools, but not the funding. “We didn’t have the money for intensive intervention programs.” Now they do, she said. Extra money is now available from the state, such as the matching funds for PEAK.
And under President Barack Obama’s stimulus package (providing Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t turn the money down), “We will get $29 million for Title 1 [low-income] schools and about $20 million for IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] over the next four years,” district communications director Barbara Griffith said.
Chuck Boyd, an assistant superintendent, pointed out that five years ago, “the accountability environment was different. … As that environment has changed, we adapted.” And some of the adaptations worked. Poly became academically acceptable in a number of categories, such as math, he said. But that wasn’t enough.
That is why Sorum wants the testing system to focus on improvement — to take into consideration a school’s rising test scores even if it doesn’t make it to the arbitrary passing grade.
In a move that might make civil libertarians nervous, the district has also established a database where teachers can enter academic information on each child. “We can accurately identify the students who are struggling, focus on a kid’s weakness, and get them the right kind of help, often with teachers who can immediately intervene at their school,” Sorum said.
There is also a web site called Parents at a Glance, where parents can go to see what their children were taught that day. “When the kid comes home and is asked ‘What did you learn in school today?’ and says ‘Nothing,’ the parent can say, ‘Well, what about Harriet Tubman?’ ” Sorum said.
The administrators said the district has responded to the needs of minority students in part by adding novels at each age level that represent the kids’ cultures. Breed said there is now a “very diverse” selection of literature after “kids came in and told us what makes teaching more interesting.”
And a new anti-drop-out program called Project Prevail has just been unveiled that is designed to pull the whole community together to keep kids in school. It enlists businesses, parents, churches, students, area colleges, and social service organizations in an “It takes a village to save a child” approach. (This is about the third such program initiated by the district in recent years. The others were highly touted, only to disappear from the radar screen never to be heard from again.)
All of the programs seem innovative and progressive, designed to bring long- needed reform to a system that one former district administrator called “teaching 21st-century kids in 19th-century schools.” She wasn’t talking about the age of the buildings.
Around the district, observers are watching the Poly drama with interest.
“There’s been some interesting strategy on Poly to get it to work,” said schools trustee Juan Rangel, referring to some of the same programs the administrators had outlined. Neither Christene Moss, whose district includes Poly, nor any other school board member returned the Weekly’s calls about Poly.
Rangel said that Poly was declining during the years when the district was going through the turmoil of changing superintendents — Thomas Tocco left under fire, and the district was under the temporary watch of Joe Ross for about a year, until the current superintendent, Melody Johnson, was hired.
The school just fell through the cracks, the trustee said. “No one was paying attention.” Several principals and vice principals rotated through Poly during that time. “School kids and teachers need principal consistency,” he said.
“Look at Paschal [in his district]. … The principal has been there seven years, time to build a team of people who get the kids graduated,” Rangel said. Paschal, like Poly, has a high percentage of minority and low-income students. But it also has a significant number of upper-middle-class white students. Still, Rangel said he’s convinced that Braudaway can do what Paschal has done, “if he’s given the time.”
Poly’s woes have also spilled over into the lap of Trimble Tech, another Fort Worth high school that once had similar problems.
Eddie Griffin, president of Trimble Tech’s PTA and a mentor to minority kids, said Poly could be turned around quickly if it uses the model of Tech, the only high school in the city that allows open enrollment.
Trimble Tech started as a technical-vocational school to teach trades to kids who weren’t considered college-bound. Up until 1996, Griffin said, it was “low-performing, low-scoring” academically because academics were often sacrificed for the technical programs, which had also been neglected. Machines and equipment needed to train kids were “antiquated or broken,” and there were no computers, he said. Griffin, whose kids went to Tech and whose grandkids are now students there, complained to Tocco about the neglect. Tocco responded by pulling together a 100-member team of parents, educators, and business representatives, including Griffin, and they were given the job of coming up with a plan to turn the school around.
They did. A curriculum was developed that improved the school’s academic performance because it was geared toward the knowledge needed by the kids who were pursuing technical careers, whether they were going on to college or not. College-related courses were expanded. Computers were put in every classroom, and state-of-the art machines were installed to train kids for mechanical jobs. The business reps developed curricula that would allow certification in technical fields so that a student was job-ready as soon as he or she graduated.
“We didn’t intend for these kids to not strive for college, but we did recognize that the majority of the district’s students are from low-income families. With good jobs, many are now able to work their way through college,” Griffin said. The plan was built around the needs of the students, with flexible hours for those who had jobs and programs for older students who had dropped out and come back, he said. Drop-out and teen pregnancy rates have since gone down.
Within one year of the plan’s implementation, the school’s test scores rose dramatically. “We have had 14 straight years of acceptable or above,” Griffin said, “and two years of exemplary or above.” He gives high marks to former principal Sue Guthrie for the school’s success.
Once a school that few wanted to attend, Tech now has more applicants than it can accept. Its success has even caused board members T. A. Sims and Moss, both of whom represent low-performing schools, to charge that Tech is causing a “brain drain” at their schools, contributing to those schools’ low test scores. The two have raised such a stink about it that the board recently voted to require applicants to Tech to be approved by administrators at the district, rather than the campus, level. The change was opposed by board members Rangel and Carlos Vasquez.
The new plan is causing outrage among Tech students, parents, and alumni, who have banded together under the leadership of Kyev Tatum to file a civil rights lawsuit to block the change.
Griffin is outraged at Moss and Sims. “Instead of knocking a success story, why don’t they copy it?” he asked. “It’s a plan that could save Poly.”
But there may be hope after all for the venerable school to survive even if for some reason it fails to pass all of the state’s academic achievement tests this year. Debbie Ratcliffe, director of communications for the state board of education said in an email, sent too late for publication in the print copy, that while the law is inflexible regarding the closing or restructuring of a school that fails the test five years in a row, the commissioner of education does have the power to impose sanctions then stay that decision for a limited period. "Sometimes when a school has been making progress but it’s not quite enough to reach the acceptable level, the commissioner has assigned alternative management and then essentially stayed that sanction for a year to give the school one more year to improve. During that year, the school still has to complete a lot of required improvement activities," Ratcliffe wrote. If the "improvement activities" seen over the past two and a half years at Poly are any indication, it would seem that the Poly students and staff are up to the task.
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