Columbia considers 'community school' to close achievement gap

Monday, September 30, 2013 | 7:57 a.m. CDT; updated 11:20 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 30, 2013

COLUMBIA — A Columbia school official is proposing the district start an innovative "community school" to help poorer students improve their academics.

Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said elementary school students who qualify for free or reduced lunches would be chosen through a lottery to attend the school. The ideal size would be about 300 students from early childhood education through fifth grade, who would attend school from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. all year, he said.

The classrooms would be based on the students' abilities, rather than their age, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The school district would seek the help of community social agencies to provide services for the students.

Stiepleman said the first step toward making it a reality is the passage of a $50 million bond issue going before voters in April, which would be funded by an 8-cent tax increase.

He said it will take something new to help close the achievement gap.

"To me, you can't keep doing the same thing and expect something different," he said.

Superintendent Chris Belcher called Stiepleman's proposal "intriguing."

"We're trying on all fronts to make an impact with kids that come from severe poverty," he said. "This is another way to think outside the box to try to think of a solution that impacts kids dealing with social issues and mobility."

Mary Rook, site administrator of the Title I preschool program, said she saw possibilities for the community school.

"We know research tells us that early intervention is where we get the most bang for our buck, and we also know from the work we do here at Title I preschool that we are closing the achievement gap in many ways," she said. "I think what we'd like to see is that progress and growth maintained over time."

Funding the project "gets into a sensitive area," Belcher said, if it draws money from other programs. He said the important point to him is that the district is failing its low-income families.

"There is a good argument to be made that there needs to be more resources directed toward projects like this," he said.

The estimated cost of the school is unknown because some aspects — such as preschool — could be covered by federal dollars.

"Best-case scenario, we use existing resources to try to balance it," Belcher said. "Worst-case scenario, we have to invest some more money because we're calling for a longer school day and a longer school year."

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Ellis Smith September 30, 2013 | 8:22 a.m.

Presumably this has been tried elsewhere in the United States. What have the results been? Tell Columbians about that, with specifics.

While some may believe conditions in Columbia public schools are horrific, they aren't as bad as in some other U.S. cities; so find some of those cities (school systems) that have used this method and interview them in depth, before "jumping into the deep end of the pool."

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis September 30, 2013 | 11:19 a.m.

This is almost comical to me. How much more money are we going to throw at our school system? I have kids that attend our public schools and even I think this is outrageous. It seems like every time we approve a bond they find something else that we just have to have "so here let's hit them with another tax increase, they are still afloat so they can take another hit'.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams September 30, 2013 | 11:30 a.m.

"He said the important point to him is that the district is failing its low-income families."

It is this mindset that keeps us doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result....that the district is the entity responsible in the first place!

I reject that.

This district provides classrooms, books, computers, lunches, math, English, science, culinary classes, gym, sports, clubs, for EVERY student. My daughters heard the SAME lectures, took the SAME tests, received the SAME homework assignments, and read the SAME books as everyone else in their classes, yet somehow the district believes they did not fail my daughters yet DID fail the individual sitting next to them.

Uh-uh. Nope.

Looks elsewhere for the cause because right now you're missing by a mile and do not have my support.......

However, if you wish to make a case using Ellis' above suggestion, feel free to do so....tell us the results from elsewhere. My mind can be changed if you tell the whole story, good and bad.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 30, 2013 | 2:38 p.m.

"It is this mindset that keeps us doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result..."

The perfect definition of the word "trueism."

And it's hardly confined to primary and secondary education, is it?

To some of us it appears that American primary and secondary education, which once were world standards, began going to hell in the 1950s and 1960s and have gone in only one direction since. I can cite plenty of retired teachers who agree.

When something like this is proposed, I for one would like to see proof that it has actually worked somewhere.

(Report Comment)

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