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Sunnyside, Grandview tapped for school improvement grants

Longer days, a longer school year and a new principal.

That's the extreme makeover at Sunnyside High School following news late this past Friday that the school district was approved for federal funds to improve graduation rates.

According to Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole, only about six of every 10 Sunnyside freshmen, 59.7 percent, graduate from high school.

That's not acceptable to state standards and, as a result, the high school was one of 19 schools in the state approved for a federal school improvement grant.

Cole says Sunnyside is seeking $2.7 million each year for a period of three years to improve graduation rates to 100 percent.

Sunnyside and other school districts won't know how much money they'll get until after meeting with state officials next week. Cole figures the high school should receive in the vicinity of $2 million.

The money comes with strings attached.

All of the schools receiving improvement funds, for example, must replace their principal if they've been there three years or longer.

For Sunnyside, Cole says that means current high school principal Brian Hart will need to be re-assigned.

Cole says a possible scenario is that Hart could actually be promoted to the district's administrative offices to oversee operations of the high school and two middle schools.

Cole says the district will begin the search for a new high school principal once negotiations wrap up with the state about the grant funds.

The grant money Sunnyside receives each year will be used to extend the high school's daily schedule of classes by one hour a day.

In addition, high school students will attend school for an additional 10 days each year.

The grant money will pay for the longer school year and longer school day. In addition, Hart's new position, if created, would be funded under the grant.

Cole says the district's plans for the next three years have to be finalized by April 26.

Longer school days, and a longer school year, means that district officials will have to negotiate with unions to sign-off on the plan.

Cole says the signs are positive so far.

"In general the unions are very supportive at this point," he said.

Cole said negotiations will also have to include yet another stipulation attached to the grant money, making student improvement a part of the teacher evaluation process.

Another Lower Valley school, Grandview Middle School, is also a grant recipient of the federal program.

Superintendent Kevin Chase said that the school principal, Jack Dalton, has been in place less than two years and won't need to be replaced.

However, he said that teacher evaluations there will also need to include student achievement.

That's because, according to Chase, Grandview Middle School is among the bottom 5 percent statewide for math and reading WASL scores.

"We have to transform the schools to where the scores are much higher," Chase said.

The middle school is asking for $1 million a year for three years. Like Sunnyside, Grandview won't know until after next week exactly how much money it will receive.

The funds, Chase says, will be used to hire more math and language art instructors and to purchase new intervention materials.

"We need curriculum to take them from where they are and catch up," he said.

The immediate goal, he says, is to improve the scores by 10 percent in the first year of the grant cycle.

In addition, Chase said that Grandview will look to add more help for student learning such as before school, after school or during the summer.

Like Sunnyside, Grandview will have to negotiate with its teacher's union about linking employee evaluation to student performance.

"I think they're open to making changes at the middle school," Chase said of the union. "They're cautious, but they don't want to stand in the way of progress."

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