Dozens of Washington schools are anxiously awaiting a final list of "persistently lowest achieving" schools, which is expected to be released in the next couple of weeks and likely will lead to big changes at those schools.
These schools, which include Monticello Middle School in Longview, will face five improvement options mandated by the U.S. Department of Education if the schools want to receive new grants that aim to improve student learning.
But the grant dollars come with a bitter caveat: most schools, like Monticello, will be forced to remove their principal. Another option calls for also transferring half of the school staff to a different school.
Monticello will not be transferring staff, but the school will pursue federal grant money for improving student learning.
Schools also have the option of closing or transforming the school's management structure.
Longview Schools Superintendent Suzanne Cusick said between 40 and 50 Washington schools are expected to receive federal sanctions for improvement, but she doesn't know the names of specific schools.
Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state superintendent's office, declined to comment on the list Friday.
"We're not releasing or even commenting on the list, on who might or might not be on it, until the feds approve it," he said.
Monticello's inclusion on the list was announced ahead of schedule because Principal Bill Marshall wanted his staff prepared for a site visit by federal consultants Monday. The visit is a requirement to receive grant money, which could range in the hundreds-of-thousands for Monticello, but will be competative.
Also, Marshall, a 37-year educator in Longview, wanted to tell his staff Tuesday why he plans to retire at the end of this school year — one year earlier than he planned. Marshall has worked the past eight years as Monticello's principal.
His resignation sparked anger with many students, past and present, as well as parents and co-workers.
The sanctions apply only to schools that have tested poorly for three consecutive years, want federal grants to help improve their schools, and who qualify for, but don't receive, federal Title 1 dollars that provide additional support for schools serving a high number of poor students.
No Kelso schools are on the list, said Kelso School Board President Patty Wood on Friday.
Not receiving Title 1 money has previously protected Monticello from No Child Left Behind sanctions.
But the new U.S. Department of Education administration under President Obama is expanding its identification of low-performing schools, regardless of Title 1 acceptance, Wood said. She attended a speech by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington D.C. earlier this month, in which Duncan informed educators that the federal government is requiring districts to turnaround low-performing schools.
Wood said she supports school improvement, but she's concerned about the federal government having such a heavy hand in performance sanctions.
"I feel like it's usurping powers at both the state and the local level," Wood said. "I feel like the federal government is making a power grab."
Cusick, however, feels differently.
"It's our job to help students achieve at higher levels. In some cases, we haven't done it. We need to ramp up our efforts," she said.
Longview had the option of waiting a year before implementing an improvement option, but Cusick said there's "no guarantee there would be other grant funding available for school reform."
Also, it's the district's civic duty to implement changes right away, she added.
"If we wait another year, that's another year's worth of children that perhaps aren't getting up to benchmarks," she said.