Administrators and teachers at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica are considering a plan to drastically overhaul classroom instruction in an effort to improve achievement by student “subgroups.”

The subgroups include African Americans, Latinos, students learning English as a second language, special education students and students from low-income backgrounds.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education adopted the plan Thursday, March 17th.

Irene Ramos, principal of the middle school, said the school would need three years to complete the transition and $620,000 to fund the first year of the plan, which begins this fall.

“We have challenged our practices and our beliefs about student achievement and instruction,” Ramos said. “We have hope that we will be able to make a difference.”

The plan is called “Creating a Dense Network of Support for Student Success” and involves school staff, parents and community groups working together to boost student achievement.

“The shift at the school has moved from just looking at teaching to looking at student learning and monitoring student learning throughout the year,” Ramos said.

Judith Meister, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at John Adams, said the plan has wide support among parents.

“Once we realized we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of the rigorous courses, there can only be two arguments for keeping it that way,” Meister said. “Either we think they can’t learn or we think they are not worth teaching.

“The first argument would be factually wrong; the second would be morally wrong,” she said, quoting Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

African American and Latino students are scoring significantly lower on standardized tests in English language arts and math than Anglo and Asian students, said Amy Fowler, an assistant principal at the middle school.

“We know that when John Adams was selected as a performance target, it was based on results of assessment tests not being where we liked them to be,” Fowler said.

John Adams Middle School has 1,148 students in grades six, seven and eight.

Latinos are the majority student population at the middle school, followed by Anglo, African American and Asian students.

The middle school also has a large population of students from low-income backgrounds and students who are learning English as a second language.

“Only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education,” Meister said. “When more students have the opportunity to be engaged and learn, then all students benefit.”

THE PLAN — A team of administrators, teachers, parents and community groups developed a three-part approach to overhauling classroom instruction.

The first part involves developing smaller learning groups as an alternative to large classes, changing the class schedule, teachers focusing more attention on individual students, and advisory sessions where students are taught social and leadership skills.

“We are looking at systematically and aggressively solving problems as they emerge by creating places of action and experimentation, and testing new education ideas that hold potential,” Ramos said.

“Our goal is to obtain student achievement and sustain that achievement among all the student subgroups,” she said.

Teachers would use new instructional strategies that are based on nationwide research on middle schools.

Students would also have a louder voice in what they learn.

“We want our students to have the responsibility for describing their own academic achievement needs so they can help us guide their learning,” Fowler said.

The second part of the plan involves giving parents new skills that would help them teach their children at home.

Parents would be given more opportunities to volunteer at the school, provide input on classroom instruction, and have ongoing access to their children’s homework and grades.

“There is no way that we can sustain achievement without the help that happens on the social end to ensure that student needs are being met,” said Louis Ramirez, an assistant principal at the middle school.

“The most important thing to do is increase parent participation at our school, not just on campus but also at home,” he said. “We need strong ties with families.”

In the third part of the plan, community partnerships would be created to provide students with after-school programs, mentoring programs and psychological counseling.

Administrators are currently discussing collaborations with the YWCA, Santa Monica College, the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica, the City of Santa Monica and the Pico Neighborhood Association.

BOARD SUPPORT — The school district board of education unanimously supported the plan and said the district would make every effort to find the necessary funding.

“This is a historical moment in some sense,” said Julia Brownley, vice president of the board of education.

“I am convinced that what has been presented will be a model for the district,” she said.

John Deasy, district superintendent, said the district would not have to suddenly find new sources of revenue.

“I don’t believe all brand-new resources have to come to the table,” Deasy said. “We can look at existing resources and redirect them.

“New money could come from partnership agreements and outside grant funding.”

Funding for the first year would require the most funding because the middle school would need to implement the plan from the ground up, Ramos said.

The first year process would involve hiring the equivalent of seven full-time teachers and creating professional development workshops and sessions for teachers.

A consultant would also have to be hired to monitor the plan’s effectiveness throughout the year and complete a report at the end of the year.

“We need to do whatever it takes to make this plan work,” said board member Oscar de la Torre.

“The success of the learning community at John Adams is very important for quality of life in Santa Monica,” he said.

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