Sarah Davila entered the Robertson Road Elementary School office Monday morning wanting answers.
The parent of two Robertson Road schoolchildren read media reports about the school's inclusion on a list of "persistently low-achieving schools" and the ensuing consequences.
"I was in shock," Davila said about the designation. "I wanted to know, 'What are we doing here? Are we transferring students to another school?' "
No decisions have been made, but officials must choose a remedy to speed academic improvements. Robertson Road and Turlock High School are two of the 188 public schools on the watch list, according to preliminary data released Monday by the state Department of Education.
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The designation forces districts to implement one of four strategies for "significant transformations," possibly by next school year:
Replace the principal and half the school's staff.
Close the school and enroll its students in a nearby, higher-achieving school.
Turn the campus into a charter school.
Replace the principal, evaluate employees with student test data, lengthen the school day and start offering financial incentives to attract teachers.
This is the first time California schools are being required to take such drastic actions to turn around student learning.
The federal government will provide $415 million for schools on the list to help them implement one of the strategies. The grants will be $150,000 to $6 million for each school, depending on which course officials choose. Applications are due June 1, with the state Board of Education awarding the grants in July.
Schools that get the grants must carry out their strategy during the next school year. Those that do not get the grant money still must make a change but have no deadline to do so.
Davila, who has a third- grader and kindergartner at Robertson Road, said none of the options available to schools seems fair, adding that parents need to take more responsibility in educating their children.
"There's no excuse for not being on top of it, and then they want to point the fingers at others" such as teachers, principals and other school staff, Davila said.
Most Robertson Road teachers didn't want to talk Monday after a meeting with district officials, but said in a written statement they were devastated by the designation.
"After all we've done (over the past several years), it's not enough," said one teacher, Robert York, of other strategies teachers have used over the years to increase student learning.
Although the school has been on a list for low test scores for several years, threats of closure or state takeover never materialized, said York, a Robertson Road sixth-grade teacher. Now teachers know state officials are serious, but the employees aren't sure what happens next.
"A lot of the details are unknown right now," York said.
Teachers are focusing on preparing students for the state tests, which are in 23 days, Principal Michele Gutierrez said.
Turlock High teachers also were dumbfounded.
"Our test scores have continued to increase every year and this is where success has gotten us?" said Jennifer Cullum, a dance and leadership teacher. "People in the public aren't going to understand how it works. They'll only see the label."
Turlock officials plan to apply for a waiver because they were only a point shy of being excluded from the list. Even if the waiver is approved, staff members plan to make changes, Cullum said.
"It's not going to be business as usual," she said. "We feel we've already been proactive, but we'll have to kick it in high gear."
In releasing the preliminary list Monday, state officials said the four remedies are intended to improve students' lives but that they can be difficult and emotional choices.
Of the 188 state schools on the list, two are in Sacramento County and 11 are in San Joaquin County.
This is the first year state officials have compiled the list; the requirement is part of a newly passed law enacted to make California eligible for special education funding touted by the Obama administration. The president's Race to the Top program is aimed at rewarding states and school districts for education reform.
However, California was left out of the first phase of Race to the Top funding recipients.
Modesto City Schools recently acknowledged that all its high schools also are being closely monitored by the state because of a lack of improvement in test scores and exit exams.
Failure to show significant improvement could result in the state forcing more changes on the district. The deadline to improve scores ends a year from now.
The compulsory programs to improve student performance come as district officials consider deep spending cuts that would reduce some support programs for struggling students.
Modesto City Schools must come up with at least $25 million in budget cuts. The district plans to send layoff notices to more than 300 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians.
For more information, go to www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/pl.