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Hart may be out as principal of Sunnyside High School

If the Sunnyside School District successfully applies for school improvement grant funding, as approved by the school board, SHS principal Brian Hart could find he's no longer principal.

That's what Sunnyside School Board officials were told at their regularly scheduled meeting last night, Thursday.

That doesn't mean Hart would be out of a job, though.

Supt. Rick Cole told officials that following a BERC Group study, he was told that of four school improvement action options that must be implemented in order to obtain $2 million in grant funding over the course of three years, Sunnyside High School could only go with the model that requires replacing the principal.

"Rather than having to replace Brian, he can stay," Cole said, adding the district has the option of promoting Hart to another position.

Cole said the transformation model also makes the district consider extending both the school day and the school year, as well as merit pay.

"It's really hard to get around how you are going to distribute merit pay," Cole said.

Eric Sylling, who's working on the Summit grant and serves as assistant principal at the high school, said, "I have some concerns about being forced into one of these four models, especially when there's isn't any research base to support it...but then again, we need the help." He said there are some strengths to it. "But there are some things we have to consider." He said he was too close to the situation to recommend to the board whether or not to apply for the grant funding.

Sunnyside qualifies to apply for the grant because it's been designated as a low achieving school in relation to its graduation rates. Cole said 59.80 percent of students tracked since they were freshman graduated last year in 2009. The year before, 58.9 percent graduated. Prior to that, there was an alternative high school. Because SHS keeps kids on campus that in the past would have gone to the alternative school, those students are factored into the graduation rate, even though they are in specialized programs.

"We're graduating 95 percent of our seniors, but it's based on how many kids started with you in the ninth grade," Cole said.

Of 400 students that enter SHS as freshmen, 250 will graduate, 20 will obtain their GED's, 10 will go into the Choices program, 30 will be in intensive substance abuse treatment programs, 60 will do credit retrieval and not graduate in time, 20 will go into contract-based learning programs and 10 will go into the Transitions program.

Four models are identified in order to receive school improvement grant funding: the transformation model, which requires replacing the principal, considering merit pay and extending school days and the school year; the school closure model, which would shut down the school; the restart model, which a school closes, then re-opens as a charter school; or the turnaround model, which requires not only replacing the principal, but 50 percent of the staff, too.

Cole told directors he's hearing that legislation might pass restricting low achieving schools to only the four school improvement options.

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