Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pontiac's Great Lakes Academy rewarded for improved MEAP scores

In a truly inspirational story, the Pontiac' Great Lakes Academy is rewarded for improved MEAP scores. While I am not a big fan of charter schools, I most certainly am when it comes to improving test scores. When a school receives an extra $7,345 this late in the school year and it goes directly to students (for charter schools is this the case?) there is reason to celebrate. They earned the money for improving on their Michigan Educational Assessment Program test scores in 2012 for the subjects in math and reading. In a story by the Oakland Press' Diana Dillaber Murray, she goes to the school and filed this story.

Pontiac's Great Lakes Academy rewarded for improved MEAP scores 

Slip into teacher Ashleigh Fanning’s classroom at Great Lakes Academy and the third-graders are so engrossed in their reading, they barely look up to see the visitors.

Great Lakes Principal Michelle Parham and Assistant Principal Melissa Johnson are proud of their students and the positive behavior they demonstrate as guests pass through.

The two also boast that their Michigan Educational Assessment Program test scores in 2012 improved enough in math and reading to make them among the schools that won $30 per pupil in bonus dollars from the state. The tiny Pontiac school of 215 students was awarded an extra $7,320.

And the two principals also point to a 2012 MEAP chart that shows Great Lakes students’ reading and math scores were higher in seven categories — sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly, especially in fourth and fifth grades — than the average at the same grades levels in Pontiac school district.

To be fair, at the same time, the chart also shows that Pontiac district can boast its average scores were higher in five grade levels than the academy.

Both are teaching students from the same high-poverty urban area, and despite improvements in some areas at the public charter and the public school district, scores of both remain lower than the greater majority of Oakland County’s other 28 school districts.

Nonetheless, Parham, a third-year principal, and Johnson, a third-year assistant principal, are confident their programs and curriculum are going to turn out students who will continue to improve and graduate high school.

Not only that, the two say every student knows from the time they start kindergarten until they leave in eighth grade what year they will graduate high school and that they will go to a college or trade school, Johnson said.

As inspiration, all teachers have posted their college banner on the wall in their classrooms that average 17 students and are no more than 24.

In addition, the school day is longer, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Children in kindergarten through fifth grade have two hours of English language arts, including reading and writing, and one and a half hours of math.
Certified teachers provide intervention to help students in areas in which they are struggling.

Middle school students have one hour a day in each core subject, and they break out in groups later in the day to focus on areas where they might be having difficulties.

“They know they are safe and that we care about them and they know we are doing our best for them, so they give us their best,” Parham said.

In a letter to Great Lakes Academy that accompanied a draft of what schools might expect in bonuses for this school year, state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan pointed out that schools from urban and economically disadvantaged to small rural schools showed improvement and would receive bonus funds.

The bonuses strengthen Parham and Johnson’s resolve to see more improvement.

Great Lakes Academy charter school is in its 16th year of operation in a former Catholic school tucked behind St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Pontiac. Parham wants to see it grow to 300 students.

All students in kindergarten through eighth grade wear the uniform of navy and maroon shirts over navy and khaki pants. When visitors passed through recently, the pupils were quiet and orderly, even the middle schoolers.

During study time in her classroom, Fanning, who has a Grand Valley State University banner on the wall behind her desk, reads with every child individually at least once a week.

On this day, Fanning helps third-grader Alexandra Jackson and the quiet room becomes busy with chatter as some students go over their test results, study together or work on computers.
In neighboring teacher Anita Robertson’s fourth-grade classroom, she also is working to ensure this group of fourth-graders tests as high or higher than the children in her class last year.

The youngsters are studying the difference between formal and informal language and when and how to use it.

However, dedication to academic studies is not all that is going on to help children reach their potential.

Parham and Johnson said at the beginning of every school year all teachers and staff are trained in Positive Behavior Support, an incentive system, and Love & Logic. The teachers then train their students.

The children are constantly reminded and are looking forward to the grand award of special field trips for each age group that come at the end of the school year for those who demonstrate positive behavior.

During a visit, when Fanning was busy helping one youngster at her desk, a little boy offered to help a classmate who was waiting for his turn with the teacher. And the two walked over to another desk where they looked over his paper.

In Robertson’s classroom, a fourth-grader said, “Excuse me,” as he passed in front of an adult to go to the pencil sharpener.

Parham and Johnson beam with pride.

Contact Diana Dillaber Murray at 248-745-4638 or or follow her on Twitter at @DDillybar.