By Sandy Quadros Bowles
December 09. 2015 12:18PM
“Christmas came early for the New Bedford public schools,’’ a smiling Durkin said in her office shortly after the numbers became public.
Two schools, Taylor and Pulaski elementary schools, improved to the state’s top accountability ranking, Level 1. They and Jireh Swift School are now the city’s three Level 1 schools.
Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in the North End leapt two levels, from Level 3 to the top ranking.
Pulaski and William H. Taylor, in the South End, were also named commendation schools, becoming the first New Bedford schools to receive that status since 2010. Commendation schools are a select group of Level 1 schools recognized by the state’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Only 44 schools across the state receive the honor, New Bedford Public Schools spokesman Jonathan Carvalho said.
Both schools were recognized for significant progress. Pulaski also was recognized for narrowing proficiency gaps for all students in all areas.
Sixteen New Bedford schools showed improvement with increased percentile rankings, which compare overall student performance in schools across the state.
The results show that the school district is moving in the right direction, Durkin said.
“This definitely gives us momentum,’’ she said.
“These results reflect real progress in our schools. Much work remains, but it’s clear that the administration and teachers are moving the New Bedford Public Schools in the right direction,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a statement.
The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guaranteed that schools that took the PAARC tests, as New Bedford schools did, would not see their accountability levels drop. Percentile rankings still could drop, though.
Durkin acknowledged the news was not all good. Hayden-McFadden Elementary School remains a Level 4 school, in its fourth year of a transformation school improvement model. “We will be carefully reviewing how we are working there,’’ she said.
Hayden-McFadden faces “very serious issues,’’ she added, saying four years at Level 4 is “just not acceptable.’’
Durkin said she will look at a “robust and accelerated’’ improvement plan for Hayden-McFadden. The school’s transformational model does not make significant changes quickly enough, she said. That model was put in place before she was hired as superintendent.
A turnaround plan that’s now in place for New Bedford High School and Parker School is more aggressive and could involve staffing changes or alterations to the school calendar, she said.
Parker School, in its second year of a turnaround plan, dropped in statewide percentile from 18 to 8. The school has added new family engagement techniques, a positive behavior intervention system and a retooled school schedule, Carvalho said.
At Pacheco School, which dropped from 40 to 17 in statewide percentile, Durkin said the addition of a new principal, a new assistant principal position and a new teaching coach have been put in place.
In Dartmouth, the Joseph DeMello and James M. Quinn elementary schools improved from Level 2 rankings in 2014 to Level 1 rankings this year. Dartmouth Middle School and George H. Potter Elementary School remained Level 2 schools in 2015, though, keeping a ranking that, according to DESE, means a school is “not meeting gap-narrowing goals.”
Dr. Bonny L. Gifford, superintendent of the Dartmouth Public School District, said administrators and staff were “absolutely thrilled” about the improvements, and about student growth across the district.
“Even our schools that maintained the Level 2 status, they still had good growth,” Gifford said.
Assistant Superintendent Michelle Roy said Potter and the middle school “just missed” Level 1 status this year, and could move up next year with continued improvement on the state’s four-year accountability formula. Roy credited an increased focus on embedding science in daily lessons and activities with the improvement at DeMello, and cited strong improvement in English language arts at Quinn.
In Acushnet, the Acushnet Elementary School and the Albert F. Ford Middle School retained their Level 2 status.
Superintendent Steve Donovan said the Ford Middle School’s cumulative PPI scores increases, “which is progress toward being Level 1.” The cumulative PPI combines information about narrowing proficiency gaps, growth, and graduation and dropout rates over the most recent four-year period.
Information about the levels in the Fairhaven school system could not be obtained late in the day by deadline.