Today is a big day for schools in a bind: California schools that landed on a list of persistently failing schools must get in their applications this afternoon if they want a shot at up to $6 million in grants to help turn their schools around.

But taking the money means they have to agree to one of these choices:

  • Replace their principal and at least half of their staff.
  • Shut down and send their students elsewhere.
  • Become a charter school.
  • Institute “comprehensive instructional reforms” that add to learning time and make teachers more effective, and replace the principal too.

Six schools in San Diego County were put on the list, which was based largely on test scores. State education officials originally said that failing schools had to undertake one of those reform options, whether they applied for the money or not. But it rapidly became clear that while the state has lots of carrots, it doesn’t have a stick: There is no apparent way for the state to force schools to change.

Some school districts have turned away from the grants entirely, saying the short list of reforms won’t meet their needs. Here’s what the six targeted schools in this county are doing:

  • Two schools-within-a-school at San Diego High that are on the list, the School of Business and MVP Arts, will not pursue the funds. San Diego Unified officials say the schools have their own reform plans that don’t mesh with the grant requirements. One other San Diego Unified school, however, is going to pursue the grant. Burbank Elementary in Logan Heights is going after a $6 million grant, using “comprehensive instructional reforms.”
  • The Charter School of San Diego, a system of independent study schools, told the Union-Tribune it shouldn’t have been put on the list because it’s an alternative program, not a conventional school. The charter school still applied for the money, but Chief Financial Officer Lynne Alipio declined to give more details about its plan.
  • King-Chavez Arts Academy, one of a system of charter schools in Barrio Logan, was also upset about being on the list. It had already undertaken many of the reforms that the state had prescribed. Like Burbank, it is going for the last model of comprehensive reform.
  • Felicita Elementary in Escondido Union School District has also applied. Unlike the other schools, it is using the “turnaround model,” which includes replacing much of its staff. Plans to transfer teachers out of the school have stirred up protest among parents, according to the North County Times.

We’ll have a deeper look at these grants and the bigger issue of school turnarounds soon. Stay tuned!


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