Buckeye Elementary School is failing.
Yet the “F” grade the school was tagged with is viewed as an opportunity, by some.
“This is not a death certificate,” said Stefan Swiat, a spokesman with the Arizona Department of Education.
“This is an alarm bell that says you need some extra help, some extra tutoring. The School Improvement staff at the Arizona Department of Education can help you improve your grade.”
In November, the Arizona State Board of Education posted grades on every school in the state.
Buckeye Elementary School received a third consecutive “D,” which by state guidelines translates to an “F.”
Dr. Kristi Sandvik, superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District, said parents were informed by postcard a community meeting will take place at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Buckeye Elementary.
“The principal (Dina Cegelka), with district support, will present the improvement plan at that time, as well as answer questions,” said Sandvik.
Buckeye Elementary was one of 42 schools in the state to receive “F” grades. Five others were in Maricopa County. No other West Valley schools received failing grades.
An “F” is “failing,” according to ADE information. A “D” means “minimally performing.”
Three of the seven BESD schools, Bales, Inca and Marionneaux schools, received “D” grades this year.
“Any school that received a grade of D or F will be holding a community meeting to share information related to their school improvement plan and the steps being taken to increase student achievement,” said Sandvik.
The district’s appeal to have Buckeye Elementary’s failing grade changed to a “D” was rejected by the State Board of Education last month.
“We appealed on the grounds the assignment of the ‘F’ was simply a punitive step and not an accurate descriptor,” said Sandvik.
“The point total placed BES at a ‘D,’ however the state’s position is three consecutive ‘D’ (grades) become an automatic ‘F.’ Our appeal was based on provided evidence we executed the improvement plan we provided to the state last year.
“Although we would never be content with an underperforming score, our concern was that such a designation comes with implied stigmas about the climate, safety, quality of staff and many other critical factors that comprise a school community.”
Sandvik said she is confident Cegelka can lead the turnaround. (The West Valley View asked Cegelka for an interview; she declined, saying all questions had to go through the district.)
“The school is already deep into significant instructional changes,” Sandvik said.
“We already closely monitor performance and were well aware of what was needed before the state’s grade assignment. We certainly do not wait for the state to define the school before taking action. That said, we are continuing to aggressively pursue any measures we believe will assist in improvement. “
Bales and Inca schools received “D” grades last year. The previous year, Bales and Inca had “C” grades.
But the opportunity for a turnaround is shown by Steven R. Jasinski Elementary School, a BESD school that received a “D” grade in 2017. In November, Jasinski earned a “B,” which translates to “highly performing.” Westpark Elementary School also received a “B,” up from a “C” the year before.
Sundance Elementary School fell from a “B” the last two years to a “C” (“performing”) in November.
According to the state education website (azsbe.az.gov/f-school-letter-grades), the grading system “measures year to year student academic growth, proficiency on English language arts, math and science, the proficiency and academic growth of English language learners, indicators an elementary student is ready for success in high school and high school students are ready to succeed in a career or higher education and high school graduation rates.”
Most of the grade comes from standardized state test results.
Sandvik was asked about challenges Buckeye Elementary school faces.
“Buckeye Elementary is a Title I School, which is the primary indicator of poverty, and the students and staff there face the usual associated challenges,” the BESD superintendent said. “As a result, staff often assist in meeting social service needs as well as those related to the emotional stressors linked to the challenges of low-income environments.
“Many students are second language learners, so are faced with the significant task of learning a new language itself, and then learning content in the new language. The admiration we all have for these children who work so hard in the face of adversity is indescribable and it adds to our commitment to finding every way to help them be successful. We offer an array of social and emotional support, extra-curricular activities, social clubs, and student leadership opportunities.”
The failing grade makes Buckeye eligible for “federal funds to receive assistance,” said Swiat. Failing schools also get performance plans from the state.
“The School Improvement Team said Buckeye Elementary is cooperative and working hard,” said Swiat.
“They did not apply for the December grant because they were in the middle of filing an appeal. Therefore, they have until mid-February to turn in the improvement plan. They are currently in process.”
Sandvik said BESD is committed to using all resources to help Buckeye Elementary improve.
Yet she stressed one letter of the alphabet, even the one many students dread, does not accurately depict the Buckeye Elementary School culture.
“Although we know there is work to be done to push academic growth forward, the letter grade does not capture what the school offers the Buckeye community and how valued it is to those it serves,” Sandvik said.
“As one student expressed to me in a focus group when I posed a question about school safety, “I feel really safe once we walk through that gate. I wish I could feel that way all of the time.’”
Nurturing a sense of safety and belonging is reinforced often, Sandvik said:
“From the principal to the counselor and the crossing guard to the homeroom teacher, BES staff create an environment that students can count on to be there everyday.”