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Waiver Filed To Remove Magnolia From State List
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Magnolia Elementary School has been named to the list of California’s 1,000 lowest achieving schools, even though its API (Academic Performance Index) score is 807. A score of 800 is the state’s gold standard that elementary schools hope to achieve.

At the Nov. 8 regular meeting of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees, the board voted unanimously to file a waiver request to be removed from the list. Magnolia is the highest scoring elementary school on the list, but as school district Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Barbara Shook told the board members, it’s “not a place they want to be.”

“It’s a total misnomer,” said Magnolia Principal Julie Minabe. “Obviously, we are not a low performing school… We don’t belong there.”

The list was created when the state passed the Open Enrollment Act (SBX4 Romero) in its bid to receive “Race to the Top” federal funds. California’s application didn’t get approved but the laws are still in effect because they weren’t tied to the state receiving the funding.

The list was intended to reflect California’s lowest performing schools and make them eligible for open enrollment, meaning parents could take their child out of that school and enroll them elsewhere. However, criteria in the act specified that no school district could have more than 10 percent of its schools on the list.

For example, a school district comprised of 10 schools could have all 10 be low performers, but only one would end up on the list. Therefore, many schools with much lower API scores were excluded from the list while higher performing schools, such as Magnolia, were added to it to fill in the numbers. In fact, there were actually 31 schools on the list with an API of 800 or more.

Minabe said that she has heard that the State Board of Education has said that the law is flawed and it needs to be fixed.

“Unfortunately I think this legislative act is simply another layer that our district already provides,” Shook said. “We do Open Enrollment in March, at which time anyone can ask for a different site for the following year without giving a specific reason.”

She said that having Magnolia, and other high performing schools on the list, is misleading and gives people the wrong impression. She reported that the 10 percent rule made it possible for that API score to keep being pushed up in order just to have schools added to the list.

Shook noted that all this really does is create one more barrier for parents, giving them the idea that there’s one less quality school to choose from in which to enroll their children.

Minabe reported that she had prepared a PowerPoint presentation for an informational meeting for Magnolia parents on Nov. 9 about the Open Enrollment list but no one came to the meeting, nor has she received calls from parents asking for further information or expressing concern. Shook also stated that she has not received any calls.

Minabe said that she believes that since no parents showed up for the meeting, it’s a testament that they understand the facts about the school’s performance.

“As far as our parents go, they know we are not a low-performing school,” Minabe said. “We constantly strive for improvement.”

Shook said that the waiver request is due Dec. 1 but it doesn’t go before the state board until February or March 2011; therefore, the district won’t hear anything until at least March. She said the only benefit of the waiver is to have Magnolia’s name removed from the list, there’s no money attached to being on or off the list. She added that it’s more of a matter of being eliminated from the list so as to reflect the hard work of Magnolia students and staff.