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School District sees progress in test scores

Date: 10/3/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — School Superintendent Daniel Warwick reported improvements in several key areas in the city's schools to the School Committee last week.

Warwick prefaced his year-in review report with some statistics that helped define the gains and losses in the report. The city, with 53 school and 25,375 students is still the second largest school district in the state. The student body includes 18.3 percent special education students, 16.8 percent limited English proficient and 87.6 percent eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The city has an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent as compared to the state's rate in August of 6.4 percent. The number of students going on to college is 52.1 percent.

The dropout rate for 2011 to 2012 has not yet been finalized, but Warwick reported that student attendance overall has risen from 90.8 percent to 91.8 percent. Truancy has dropped from 5.1 percent to 4.4 percent.

Participation in the SAT and PSAT have both dropped, but qualifying scores for Advanced Placement increased from 139 to 223 and the number of Advanced Placement Exams taken also increased.

There were overall gains for English Language Learners in both English and math and gains across groups of students in the 10th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in the English Language Arts. For the math MCAS test there were gains among all groups with the exception of English Language Learners and Special Education students.

Overall though the student growth percentile for the district for the MCAS English scores dropped from 40 to 39 percent and the math score dropped from 37 percent to 36 percent.

There were gains in the MCAS scores among the city's 10 Level Four schools, although there were drops at John F. Kennedy Middle School, the White Street School and the High School of Commerce. When questioned by School Committee member Antonette Pepe, Warwick said that Commerce is just in its first month of additional funding to address the Level 4 problems, and that middle schools across the state are struggling to raise test scores.

"Every middle school in the state is flat," Warwick said.

The School Committee addressed a number of other issues at the meeting including approving the appointment of Lydia E. Martinez as assistant superintendent, although the vote was not unanimous.

School Committee member Barbara Gresham charged that Warwick did not make the selection process "transparent" for School Committee members.

Unlike previous superintendents, Warwick had posted the position externally and had received 72 applications. A team of Human Resources officers narrowed that group down to 10 applicants who were then interviewed by a team of principals and administrators. Of the three finalists, Warwick selected Martinez after he had interviewed the three people.

Gresham said that she hear rumors that Martinez was the candidate for the job before the application process. She spoke to Warwick who discounted the speculation as just a rumor.

With the announcement of Martinez's selection, though, Gresham said this was example of "back door politics."

Warwick's process was defended by a number of School Committee members. Vice Chair Christopher Collins called Gresham's remarks "an inaccurate accusation."

Pepe and School Committee member Peter Murphy noted that in the past superintendents had not gone through this kind of search process and the School Committee routinely approved his or her recommendations.

Pepe added she was aware there had been lobbying by people behind the scenes for a particular candidate — she did not say which one — but it was not Martinez.

Martinez's career in Springfield started in 1996, when she was a teacher at Forest Park Middle School. Since 2009, she has been Chief Schools Officer with oversight of student achievement and student interventions at Chestnut, Duggan, Forest Park, Kennedy, Kiley, STEM, Van Sickle and South End middle schools. In 2011, she served as Chief Schools Officer of The Springfield Renaissance School and Central, Commerce, Science and Technology, and Putnam high schools.

She had served as a middle school principal. Her new salary will be $138,000.

The School Committee also approved the position of a grant writer with a salary between with $55,000 to $60,000. Warwick said the district has not had a grant writer for 20 years. To pay for the new position he consolidated some other jobs to create the salary.