State

Turlock High taken off state's list of poorly performing schools

TURLOCK — The mood at Turlock High School brightened Thursday when word got around that the campus is off a state watch list for poor academic performance.

Officials from Turlock believed the school didn't belong on the state's list of 188 "persistently low-achieving schools" and applied for a waiver. The State Board of Education unanimously approved the request Thursday morning.

An e-mail sent to staff announced the decision. It got a better reaction than one sent out last week with the bad news that the school had been placed on the list because it didn't meet a target for improvement on annual testing.

"It's going to be a much better weekend than last weekend was," Principal Dana Salles Trevethan said.

Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny DaMarto hailed the decision. He acknowledged the school has "areas of need," but said it doesn't belong on the list.

"It is unfortunate the staff, administrators and community had to be put through this unnecessary additional strain at a time of enormous pressure due to state budget cuts to education," DaMarto said.

Modesto's Robertson Road Elementary also made the list.

Schools on the list must implement one of four strategies for "significant transformations":

Replace the principal and half the school's staff.

Close the 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.

Those schools are in line for $150,000 to $6 million each from the federal government to help them adopt one of the strategies, starting next school year.

The news that Turlock High had made the list took staff, students and parents by surprise.

Trevethan said an analysis showed Turlock met or exceeded the state average in nine of 12 test areas. She cited the school's graduation rate of 87.9 percent.

"We knew all along we deliver a quality education," said Julie Shipman, a Turlock High teacher and president of the teachers union. "We're happy the state agrees with us."

But officials said the original designation will serve as a wake-up call.

"The list isn't going to go away," Trevethan said. "We're going to do everything we can possibly do to improve education at Turlock High School."

Students said they already are seeing changes.

For instance, a short advisory period now will include weekly required reading sessions, said senior Lindsay Davenport, 18.

She wasn't sure she was a fan of the idea. "My advisory teacher is a math teacher — if I have a math test coming up I'm going to want to ask him about that, not read," she said.

Davenport and fellow senior Kara Reed, 17, said they don't consider Turlock a low-achieving school, but there's always room for improvement.

"I'm glad they're going to try to initiate new changes to try and transform education," Reed said.

The two were glad to see the improved mood on campus Thursday.

"They were really stressed," Davenport said. "But we love our teachers and think they do an amazing job."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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