Elephant’s Fork may get federal boost

Published 10:19 pm Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big changes could be on the horizon for Elephant’s Fork Elementary School.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that Virginia will receive nearly $59.8 million to turn around its lowest achieving schools. Elephant’s Fork is one of those schools.

But there is a catch. The funds, if the school is accepted into the program, come with major changes — ranging from new personnel to closing the school.

“Suffolk Public Schools has every intention to apply for these funds for school improvement as soon as guidelines and the application become available,” Suffolk Deputy Superintendent Deran Whitney said in an email.

Elephant’s Fork is a Tier III school — meaning it has failed to meet adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind program for two years, but has not been identified as a persistently low-achieving school.

According to Whitney, Elephant’s Fork Elementary is in its third year sanctions since it has not made adequate yearly progress in math and English, as determined by annual Standards of Learning testing.

For the last two years, the school has paid a coach to work with it on the areas that are in need of improvement.

Funds would help expedite the process, but if the school accepts the funds it must agree to one of four painful options set forth by the state.

One model calls for replacing the principal, screening existing school staff and rehiring no more than half the teachers.

Another includes converting the school or closing it and re-opening it as a charter school or under an education management organization.

A school closure model would close the school entirely and send the students to another.

The final option would replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other strategies.

Once schools received the money, however, they would be able to begin spending it immediately to turn them around this fall.

“[A] child’s educational opportunities should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not her zip code,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a press release announcing availability of the funds. “Every child in Virginia deserves the basic opportunity of a quality education. This funding will help allow us to improve and reform schools that have underperformed for far too long.”