Belleview Elementary “Focus School” designation misleading

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comAugust 13, 2013 

One of Rock Hill’s highest-rated elementary schools is in its second year as a designated “focus” school because it failed to meet state expectations in closing an achievement gap.

Designation as a focus school means that parents and guardians can “opt out” and choose to send their children to either Finley Road or Oakdale elementary school instead of Belleview.

The school was first designated a focus school back in 2012 based on standardized test scores taken in 2011-2012. The designation gives schools two years to “get out of it,” according to Missy Brakefield, the Rock Hill school district’s director of federal programs.

“When the state started looking at the accountability system, there were several things they wanted to do and one of them was put a focus on particular subgroups” of students, she said.

What happened back in 2011-2012 was a failure by Belleview to make progress in closing the achievement gap, or the difference in peformance between all students and students in the “disabled” subgroup, she said.

“What that also means is Belleview is outperforming in other subgroups within the building,” Brakefield said.

Brakefield pointed out that when comparing Belleview with the “opt out” schools, Finley Road and Oakdale, Belleview is actually outperforming either school, with more students meeting or exceeding the standard in reading, writing, science and social studies, sometimes by significant margins.

In 2010, Belleview Elementary won a designation for the Distinguished Title 1 School for Closing the Achievement Gap.

Belleview also recieved an “A” rating on a federal accountability system, while Finley Road and Oakdale each got a “B.”

“It’s confusing and frustrating and all of those things tied into one,” said Belleview Pincipal John Kirell, who is entering his sixth year as principal at the school.

Last year, Kirell said, the school recieved sanctions for failing to close this achievement gap and then accepted a Palmetto Silver Award just a week later for closing another. The system is flawed, he said.

“In our worst year, we outperform the state averages pretty much across the board,” he said.

It is because of situations like Belleview that the state is reexamining these kinds of standards, Brakefield said.

Despite the presence of the opt-out policy and the potentially confusing “focus” title, Brakefield and Kirell said very few students have taken advantage of the opportunity, with only two students doing so last year. Although this year’s deadline to choose isn’t for another week, Kirell said only two students have left so far. But none, Kirell said, are leaving because of the “focus” title.

“We actually have parents in the (disabled) subgroup wanting to go to Belleview as opposed to other schools in the district,” Brakefield said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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