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December 13, 2011

A Depressed Community and the Struggle for Transformation: Albion High School

Abstract:

Ever since industry began to leave Michigan, Albion has suffered economically. Many families moved to find work, while others began working two to three jobs to provide for their families. As the town lost industry and residents, many other businesses began to close and the population continued to dwindle. These factors, along with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education legislation, have posed great threats to Albion High School. During the last 10 years, Albion did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) most years which led to severe funding cuts that were further exasperated by losing so many students to school of choice in the nearby towns of Marshall and Homer. Socially, as students left the district, Albion High School flipped its minority/majority population. After closing the middle school and failing to meet AYP once again in 2010, Albion had the choice to either close the school or transform it based on a three-year education plan. Choosing to transform the school, the school also received a federal $2.7 million grant which was spent on professional development during the summer, an instructional mentor, and after school tutoring, among other facets. Recommendations for Albion High School to further improve include implementing sustainable programs, increasing staff cohesion, partnering with community organizations to create student programs, meeting the annual budget, and enhancing instructional techniques based on Best Practices.

Introduction to Albion

The geographic community of interest is Albion, Michigan, which is located in southern Michigan on the Kalamazoo River. Once a booming and prosperous city, particularly back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Albion was highly industrialized. It was filled with many manufacturing companies, including those for automobiles, iron, steel, and glass.

This time period is coined as “the golden-era in Albion’s history” (Passic 2006). Albion was also named an ‘All American City’ in 1973 by the National Civic League (Latent Dirichlet Allocation 2011). The population grew from 10,406 in 1950 to 12,749 in 1960 (Passic 2006). This growing population could not be met fast enough, resulting in a housing shortage. Neighborhoods, schools, and community businesses and services were expanded to meet the growing needs of the community. However, this period of prosperity ended with the closing of factories starting in 1975. Lost jobs and unemployment led to empty houses and emptying schools. This current community of Albion resembles an empty shell of its past. According to the US Census of 2010, Albion’s current population is 8,616.

The racial background of the population is 63.6% Caucasian, 29.9% African American, 2.2% mixed Caucasian and African American, and 5.8% Latina/Latino. Albion is considered an impoverished community with 12% of families living below the poverty line and with home values half the national average. Due to the conditions surrounding this community there are a plethora of social issues. In this community profile, the specific problem of focus is the failing educational system in the area. The problem came into view when Albion Senior High School was rumored to be closing, following the actual closure of Washington Gardner Middle School in 2010. Due to funding from a large federal grant, the school is no longer in danger of closing. However, the quality of education is in question as Albion High School has been on the state’s list of “lowest achieving schools” three years in a row, and the student population and graduation rate is continuously decreasing.

There are a number of diverse factors contributing to the current state of the high school and its students. Therefore, the population of focus is middle and high school aged youth (grades 7th-12th) residing in the city of Albion. The community and its citizens continue to suffer due to high unemployment, low salaries, and the suffering quality of education. If the problems affecting the educational system can be determined, then solutions can be made, and the circle of low-achievement can be broken.

Social and Economic Factors

Albion High School’s problems are intertwined with the social and economic plights of the community.What is most telling is the data from students (ages 5-17), as this provides the highest group who has experienced poverty in the last 12 months. Therefore, the students are directly influenced by economic hardships and the school has to provide more programs and services to accommodate the needs that result from poverty. The second biggest group is that of the 25-44 age group, this is relevant in that the parents of students attending school are also faced with the adversity of poverty. The school, therefore, has to make certain accommodations and confront the challenges that go along with having such a high population in poverty, which drains resources and funding. This high amount of poverty in turn also affects the amount of revenue to be gained from taxes that can in turn be used for the district public schools.

Not only does the school have to deal with issues of poverty in terms of its students, it also has to accommodate for decreased funding. As the chart below demonstrates the district has been suffering from decreased amount of total revenue for the last three school years.Due to the financial hardships of the district, many students began to leave. The 2006-2007 District Annual Report notes that between September 2004 and September 2006 38% of students transferred to other schools in Michigan, the second highest reason for exists was 28% and that was the population of students who graduated or received their GED. This data compiled with the decreasing amount of enrollment alerted the schools to a trend that would threaten whether the high school could remain open.

In an effort to better understand what population is actually leaving the school a comparison of the racial break down of the school district with that of Albion High School is helpful. The two pie charts are almost the inverse of each other. Due to the fact that there is such a high population of whites in the school district, but not at Albion High School, it seems like the population opting to attend other high schools is the white population. The trend seems clear, black students are staying, while white students are leaving, indicating white flight and potentially some underlying racial issues.

However, when interviewing ‘Mrs. Smith’ (source wishes to remain anonymous), a teacher working with Albion High School for over 25 years, she repeatedly commented that the students leaving to attend other schools is a socio-economic issue and not a racial one. Although, she admitted there has been a majority-minority flip within the school, she believes that the school is losing a significant number of more affluent black students too.

The high percentage of students leaving Albion High School as well as the flip in minority and majority populations can be better understood by analyzing specific policies that have affected the school for the past ten years. With the creation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, education began to change throughout the United States. Although NCLB was created to support struggling students and decrease achievement gaps, many schools have actually been threatened because of new policies implemented by this new legislation (U.S. Department of Education 2005). NCLB bases a school’s success on the standardized testing that takes place annually and is measured by Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Each year, the state sets the achievement bar, which is the percentage of students that must pass the exam in order to meet AYP. Also, 95% of any minority group and special education students must pass the exam to meet AYP. In Michigan, the exam at the high school level is called the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and is distributed during Junior Year. If a school fails to meet AYP, they are given a warning, and there are penalties for every subsequent year that AYP is not met which may include funding cuts, students being allowed to go to a school of choice, school transformation, or closing the school.

Political and Policy Context

Although the goal of NCLB was for schools across the country reach 100% testing scores by 2012, many schools have struggled to meet these high standards and have suffered drastically due to the policy. Albion High School is one of the schools most impacted by NCLB in Michigan and has been continuously listed in the bottom 100 Public Schools in Michigan (Wheaton 2011). NCLB has been a great threat to Albion High School and the students that attend the school. As the school continued to fail to meet AYP almost every year since 2001, the school lost both their funding and also lost many students to schools of choice such as Marshall High School and Homer High School.

After closing Washington Gardner Elementary School and moving the 7th and 8th grade students to the high school in June 2010 and failing to meet AYP once again in spring 2011, the school was given the choice between attempting a three-year transformational model or closing the school. With this new opportunity for change, the school chose to try the transformation, which was facilitated by a $2.7 million grant (School Improvement Grants). This money along with the new education plan has provided opportunities for teachers to attend professional development seminars, for the school to hire a new teacher, to pay for a tutoring service to work with students after school, and for an instructional coach for teachers (Smith 2011).

With the hope of this new opportunity to improve the school and help students succeed, the staff began the current school year with much enthusiasm (Smith 2011). According to Smith, the teachers are one of the school’s greatest strengths. Another important strength is the enthusiasm of the students and members of the community. When walking through the school on a Sunday during alumni weekend, many students were eagerly decorating the hallways of the school. Upon walking through Albion High School, it is clear that the school is very well cared for, and that students are motivated to be there, even on a Sunday. The all around motivation of people living in Albion along with the new education plan, and other strengths such as after school tutoring and advanced programs for students such as ATIP and the math and science center will hopefully make the difference for the students and Albion High School itself in the upcoming years.

Recommendations

In order to improve the educational environment and rate of achievement at Albion High School, it is proposed that the school think strongly regarding the implementation of sustainable programs so that these programs can continue to operate once the school ceases to receive the three years worth of federal grant money. Sustainable programs would include professional development seminars that educate teachers about Best Practices that can be implemented within the classrooms. Also, the stability of the school could be improved by reducing the turnover of important leaders in the district and the high school such as the superintendent, the principal, and the teachers. This will also improve the cohesion between staff members.

Cohesion should also be extended to the students. Programs for joint participation amongst staff and students could facilitate this process. By learning to work together outside of the classroom, the environment and relationships between the staff and students could change for the better and add to the further success of students, and maintenance of the student body population. Similarly, community outreach to organizations such as faith-based organizations and Double Vision Recreation Center can be utilized to create after school programs for students. A final recommendation is for Albion to make the necessary changes to meet the annual budget.

References

Albion Public Schools Annual Report 2005-2006. Albion.k12.mi.us
Albion Public Schools 2006-2007 District Annual Report. Albion.k12.mi.us
Albion Public Schools District Annual Education Report 2007/2008. Albion.k12.mi.us
American Fact Finder. (2010) Profile of general population and housing characteristics. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved: October 1, 2011.
The Annual Education Report 2003-2004. Albion.k12.mi.us
Latent Dirichlet Allocation (2011). Albion, Michigan. http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/08/ajb/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Albion,_Michigan.html. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
School Improvement Grants Grant-LEA Application 2010. Albion.k12.mi.us
U.S. Department of Education (2005). Introduction: No child left behind. http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/index.html Retrieved: October 9, 2011.
Wheaton, B. (2011). Update: Albion High School is on state’s low achieving list for second year in a row; principal optimistic progress is ahead. Jackson Citizen Patriot. http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2011/08/albion_high_school_is_on_state.html

Posted by desolada at December 13, 2011 09:40 AM

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