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District makes drastic changes at Cunningham Elementary in hopes of improving test scores
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Starting with the 2010/2011 school year, Cunningham Elementary School will take on a handful of changes. The school will have a new principal, a new game plan and some new staff.

“What we have been doing at Cunningham is not working,” said Lacrisha Ferriera, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Turlock Unified School District. “I know for a fact that there is a need to improve instruction.”

The TUSD started the process of the turnaround model at Cunningham on May 3 by presenting the model and new ideas to Cunningham staff, Ferriera said. The district has replaced the principal for next year and started interviews with all staff to potentially relocate them to other schools. All changes will be made for the 2010/2011 school year.  

The new principal for the next school year will be Al Silveira, who is coming from Medeiros Elementary School. The principal currently at Cunningham Elementary, Tim Norton, will take the place of Turlock Junior High Assistant Principal Cameron Deen, who has announced his retirement.

With this new model, no employees will be terminated, said Sonny Da Marto, TUSD superintendent.

“People who will leave Cunningham will still have a job in the district,” Ferriera said.

Employees who do not match the needs to implement Cunningham’s future will be relocated to other schools within the district, she said.

“We want all the right people in the right seats on the bus,” Ferriera said.

The district will be relocating a “couple of teachers” that is “nowhere near 50 percent of the staff,” she said.

Those relocated teachers will be replaced with other teachers from within the district who want to work at Cunningham, Ferriera said. Advertising for positions at Cunningham will begin this week. Cunningham teachers who will be relocated will be notified by the end of this week.

The turnaround method that is being used at Cunningham is one of four methods implemented by the California State Department of Education at schools that are low performing within the Tier I and Tier II list of schools, which consists of the bottom five percent of schools within the state.

Schools listed on the two lists for low-performance are required by state law to implement one of the four intervention models. Cunningham is not on the Tier I or Tier II lists, but is on the Tier III list, which is not required by the state to implement any of the four models.

If the district was forced to implement one of the four models and chose to use the turnaround model, the district would have to replace the current principal, rehire no more than 50 percent of staff and select new staff.

TUSD is voluntarily implementing the turnaround model, therefore, they are not forced to strictly follow the model but they can use it as a guideline for improvement, Ferriera said. The district is not forced to eliminate and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff or hold two public hearings before implementing the model or have the Board of Trustees vote on one of the four models.

“If we were required to implement one of the four intervention models, then we would have had to hold the two public hearings,” Da Marto stated. “However, we are trying to be proactive and start the process before mandated to do so. Therefore, we are not required to follow the model exactly and have adapted the model to best meet our needs.”

This is the fifth year that Cunningham has been a program improvement school with no foreseeable improvements in the future, Ferriera said. Cunningham is one of the lowest-achieving schools in the district, along with Osborn Elementary and Wakefield Elementary. 

New models have already been implemented at Osborn and Wakefield, Da Marto said. Osborn will enter into its first year as a full two-way immersion school this upcoming school year and Wakefield has qualified for Quality Education Investment Act grant funds. The QEIA will allow Wakefield to have lower class sizes.

With Cunningham being one of the last lowest-achieving schools to adopt a new model, Da Marto said that “we can’t afford to put this off any longer.”

Although district staff is excited about this new change to improve Cunningham Elementary, some teachers and parents are not so happy.

“Teachers analyze their lessons every day, and are constantly looking for ways to increase learning,” stated Turlock Teachers Association President Julie Shipman in a letter. “We are, however, extremely unhappy with this decision to blame staff and throw Cunningham into disarray.”

Shipman feels that the district should try everything to improve the academics at Cunningham before making this big change, she said. She suggested the district adopt an intensive intervention curriculum for students.

Other concerns raised include that if Cunningham Elementary is placed on the Tier I or Tier II list for next year and are forced to implement one of the four models according to state law, will the district have to start all over again?

The district will not have to replace the principal again but they may have to relocate more teachers from Cunningham following one of the model rules of rehiring no more than 50 percent of staff, Ferriera said.

“This is a like a gift,” she said. “We are going to look back on this and think ‘wow we did something so bold and different.’ We owe it to these students and we owe it to these families.”

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.