Montevallo Middle named a “persistently lowest-achieving” school

The Alabama Department of Education has placed Montevallo Middle School on a list of “persistently lowest-achieving” schools under a Title I federal grant program that could award such schools up to $2 million in improvement grants.

Montevallo Middle is the only Shelby County school out of the 264 schools on the list. Title I schools have a poverty count of 35 percent or higher of students.

The U.S. Department of Education required the state to develop its own definition for “persistently lowest-achieving schools” instead of using Adequate Yearly Progress data when making the list.

Shelby County Schools spokesperson Cindy Warner said school system officials were surprised to see Montevallo Middle on the list since the school made AYP last year.

“I think we were a little surprised to see them on there because all of our schools had made AYP,” she said. “But it was because of the new criteria they had put in place.”

Montevallo Middle was able to make AYP last year because the school receives partial credit for students who make a Level 2 score on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test.

Under Alabama’s definition of persistently lowest-achieving schools, Montevallo Middle received no credit for those test scores, Warner said.

However, Montevallo Middle is not among the worst schools on the list, which is divided into three tiers.

Tiers I and II are comprised of the lowest-performing schools; in order to get federal improvement grant money, such schools must undergo intense intervention programs, which involve methods such as releasing principals and teachers, closing schools and enrolling students at higher-performing schools or closing and reopening schools under another educational management organization.

Montevallo Middle is a Tier III school, which means the intervention programs are optional. The school can also elect to use any grant funds to continue school improvement methods already in place.

Shelby County school system officials might not apply for any of the funds, Warner said.

“The biggest thing at this point is that we haven’t decided whether or not we will apply for any of this funding yet. We have until May to do so,” she said. “Obviously, there are several factors that are in play here. We are weighing the pros and cons of applying.”

Warner said Shelby County Schools officials are trying to determine if the school system can sustain any programs started with the grant money.

“If you put a new program in place, will you be able to sustain it in the long run?” she said. “That’s true not only for this funding, but for any funding.”

The grant funds would be available for the 2010-2011 school year and for the two years after that. Schools could get grants of anywhere between $50,000-$2 million.

Warner said Montevallo Middle administrators and teachers have been working for years to improve the school, which is an Alabama reading initiative school. The school has also received a grant to improve technology being used there.

“That school has already been trying along the way to implement a strong and innovative curriculum, and they’ll continue to do that,” Warner said.