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Cunningham begins to see improvement

POSTED April 15, 2011 10:11 p.m.

Last year Turlock Unified School District undertook the challenge of “turning around” Cunningham Elementary using a modified state model in order to pull the school out of being on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools for the past three school years.

Al Silveira, the former principal at the high-performing Medeiros Elementary took over as principal, some teachers were moved to different school sites and some new teachers came to Cunningham, and of course, controversy swirled.

Now, nearly a year later, the dust has settled and according to TUSD officials and Silveira Cunningham is rebounding in a big way.

“We’ve seen good growth and good improvement, we’ve worked together to meet the needs of our students and we are excited to see our CST results,” said Silveira.

According to TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, Cunningham benchmark scores have increased by 30 percent over last year. Da Marto notes that confidence is also up at the school.

“We conduct a Culture of Trust survey that measures relationships between employees, parents, teachers and staff. Last year it was scoring about 50 percent and now it is above 80 percent,” he said.

Credit for the positive changes has gone to improved implementation of the Sheltered Intervention Observation Protocol, which provides administrators and district officials the chance to suggest instruction techniques for teachers in order to reach more students.

But not everyone sees the process as positive. Parent-Teacher Association President Sean McKeon said district officials are “painting a picture that everything at Cunningham is just rosy.”

“The teachers here work hard, but as parents we are struggling to pull through this. The district has very poor communication with parents here. I don’t think they have shown me as a parent that they care about those kids other than that their test scores come up. I bet Dr. Da Marto hasn’t been on campus more than a few times this year,” said McKeon.

The turnaround method used at Cunningham is one of four methods of recovery created by the California State Department of Education that are designed to improve the bottom five percent of schools in the state.

Schools that are in the bottom five percent are required by state law to implement one of the four recovery programs. Last year TUSD officials voluntarily chose to implement the turnaround model, allowing officials some breathing room and flexibility in determining ways to improve the school.

“I’m very confident in Al Silveira and I’m very pleased with the progress Cunningham has made in the past year. This isn’t going to happen overnight, it takes time but the trends show a really positive swing in the right direction,” said Da Marto.

Last year only 34 percent of students at Cunningham were listed as proficient in English-language arts, 43 percent in math and 30 percent in science.

McKeon believes the benchmark scores are good but he hopes the CST reflects the same increase, even though he predicts an increase of 5 to 7 percent.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com, or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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