Letter may have led fewer to transfer out

HUDSON – So far, 11 H.O. Smith School students have transferred to Nottingham West – an offer the school district was forced to give parents of students attending the district’s two schools deemed “in need of improvement.”

When the district accepted nearly $500,000 in Title I grant funds this summer, it forced H.O. Smith and Hills Garrison to offer its students the option to attend another elementary school – Nottingham West or Library Street School, according to Superintendent Randy Bell.

No parents of students at Hills Garrison chose to send their children to another school.

Apparently, there was some confusion stemming from a letter Hills Garrison Principal Marilyn Martellini and Assistant Principal Lois Connors sent to parents Aug. 18 informing them of the school choice option.

“The school has been identified as such as a result of failing to meet the state target goal in reading for two consecutive years with our cohort of learners identified with educational disabilities,” the letter read.

Bell said the educational jargon in the letter “caused more confusion than light.”

Hills Garrison needs improvement because a certain subset of students, in this case special education students, didn’t meet a benchmark for reading on standardized tests for two years in a row. If even one of several student subgroups – called cohorts – fails to meet a standard, the entire school fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. If that happens two consecutive years, a school is said to be “in need of improvement,” Martellini said.

Martellini and Connors used a model letter provided by the state Department of Education and left somewhat vague how exactly the school didn’t meet AYP to spare those students any embarrassment.

“It was a very hard letter to write,” Martellini said.

The letter also included a page showing the school’s test scores in grades three through five in the 2007-08 school year. The scores show that the majority of students earned proficient or “proficient with distinction” on the tests.

That confused some parents, Martellini said, because since the special education subgroup wasn’t broken out, it seemed that high scores had somehow earned the school a poor rating.

Connors said two parents contacted her because of the letter, but none have decided to send their child to another school.

“It was stated the way it was recommended. It was the model that was sent to us,” Bell said, but “the bottom line is still the letter should have been clearer, and the next time around we’ll make sure it is.”

The deadline to apply for admission to another of the district’s schools has passed, but the school will handle any further requests on a case-by-case basis, Martellini said.