Children living in poverty and English as a Second Language students are not successful in the standardized classroom across the United States, including right here in Medford.
Medford's high school graduation rate is 64 percent, with only 50 percent of Hispanic youths graduating from local high schools. We can say the state assessments are getting harder — we can say kids aren't trying hard enough in class — but the reality is that for each student that drops out of school, we all fail.
For 15 years, Kids Unlimited of Oregon has been building the capacity to embrace the full education continuum, with safety net supports, from preschool through high school for youths living in poverty. As part of that continuum, the Kids Unlimited board of directors, agency leadership and charter school development team dedicated three years to researching proven best practices for closing the achievement gap for students at risk of dropping out of school, culminating in the creation of: VIBES Public Charter School: Academy of the Arts and Sciences.
At the Medford School District's March 11 public hearing for the VIBES Public Charter School, challenges were made regarding the quality of the charter school's curriculum, professional development for instructional staff and even more specifically, quality of the charter school's staff. A teacher testified that within Medford School District's highest-poverty elementary schools, the best education is already being provided for their students. The Medford School District's high school dropout data negates this theory.
The fact that Howard Elementary School was deemed by the Oregon Department of Education as being in "School Improvement Status" in 2010-11 for reading and in 2011-12 for math is another reality check that what is happening within the high-poverty schools isn't working. During these two years, Howard Elementary School was required to send letters home stating that students could transfer to another school and/or participate in out-of-school time tutoring funded by Title I money drawn away from the district's six other Title I elementary schools.
Kids Unlimited was one of the private vendors registered with the Oregon Department of Education to provide this focused tutoring and consistently provided the best instructional tutoring, documented by test results and monitored by the Medford School District's Federal Programs Department.
The core curriculum chosen for the VIBES Public Charter School embraces the reality that it takes comprehensive school reform and a relentless pursuit of excellence to ensure that all children can and will learn at grade level.
Success for All Foundation's school reform model has been chosen for the charter school's literacy and family support framework. This model is one of the most heavily researched programs in the nation and has powerful data to back up its claim that all children can be successful readers.
Singapore Math has been chosen for the core mathematics program because of its proven record for moving students two years further ahead in math skills and applications than their peers who are taught from other math curriculums. The U.S. Department of Education specifically brought in Singapore Math as a model for the Common Core Standards in mathematics, and it has been touted by Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, as a curriculum that should be implemented in school districts across the nation.
The staff development requirements for both Success for All and Singapore Math are written into the charter school's plan for effective program implementation. Success for All requires massive face-to-face training for the school principal, teachers, family liaison and reading facilitator that is carried out by vetted Success for All school reform trainers over the course of three years. VIBES Public Charter School instructional staff will be trained by a nationally recognized Singapore Math instructor and will work as a professional learning community to be "students of math" themselves.
Charter schools were brought to the national forefront as a way to step outside the rigid requirements of established educational systems to create meaningful school reform that closes the achievement gap. The VIBES Public Charter School instructional staff must meet the same "highly qualified" requirements as set by the federal government for all teachers.
All students deserve the right to be educated within a system that best meets their needs. VIBES Public Charter School has been created to provide our most vulnerable students choice, at an early age, to keep them engaged in learning and on track for graduating from high school.
Detailed information about the VIBES Public Charter School, including the full 96-page proposal, can be found at www.kidsunlimitedoforegon.org. Questions about the VIBES Public Charter School can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and responses will be posted on the agency website.
Jane McAlvage is a charter school developer for Kids Unlimited. She has 14 years' experience as an elementary teacher and 15 years as an elementary principal.