Johnstown Middle School Gets Grant to Improve Performance

Aug 2, 2012

Ten Pennsylvania schools will share $6.9 million in federal School Improvement Grants awarded to some of the commonwealth's poorest performing schools.

The Greater Johnstown Middle School will receive nearly $1 million. District Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak said part of the grant money will be used toward creating a culture of students who are better prepared for high school and college.

"In our middle school in Johnstown we've have limited success at moving students rapidly enough to readiness to enter their high school days," Zahorchak said. "We're going to be focusing on, of course, the standards of Pennsylvania as measured by Pennsylvania and building a curriculum that supports to help us with that."

One of the ways is through tutoring both during and after school and an additional 53 minutes of instructional time in the same school day. Test scores aren't the only area for improvement, though. Zahorchak added the district plans on implementing behavior, attendance and achievement warning systems. Zahorchak said an interventional specialist was also added to the staff in order to assist in monitoring for early-warning signals. Curriculum facilitators in math and reading were added too.

115 schools were eligible to apply for the grants, but only 21 did so. To receive the grants schools must implement one of four reform models developed by the federal government: Transformation, Turnaround, Restart and School Closure.

Under the Transformation Model, teachers and principals must be evaluated using a rigorous and transparent process and take part in professional development.

The Turnaround Model involves changing the school leadership, replacing at least 50% of the staff, and the adoption of new governance.

The Restart Model enables a district to choose between re-opening a school as a charter school or have an education management organization take over operations.

The School Closure Model allows a district to transfer students out of the low-performing school and into higher-achieving schools within the district's boundaries.

Zahorchak said the district opted for the Transformation Mode, and the grant gives the Johnstown Middle School a jump-start on the new ways of scoring teachers.

"This time, teachers and principals will be trained in classroom observation and the kind of teaching strategies that should be quite apparent in an observation, and what should be done before that observation and after that observation, occurring at least once a year and in some cases more frequently," Zahorchak said.

The results of the evaluations will depend on the results of those observations, student performance, and a particular teacher "team" performance. Zahorchak said attendance and graduation rates will also be a part of the "more objective" teachers' evaluations.

"There probably won't be two teachers alike in terms of end results on an evaluation," Zahorchak said.

Zahorchak said teachers he has been in discussion with have been willing to be a part of the evaluations. He added the grant comes at a good time.

"In our particular district we certainly could use supplemental support," Zahorchak said. "For the next three years we'll have a little over $1 million a year from this particular opportunity for us."

A list of the ten grantees, their school districts, the amount of the award, and the reform model they accepted:

  • Albert Gallatin Area School District, Fayette County
    Albert Gallatin High School, Transformation, $1,008,323
  • Corry Area School District, Erie County
    Corry Area High School, Transformation, $787,864
  • Greater Johnstown School District, Cambria County
    Greater Johnstown Middle School, Transformation, $989,459
  • Lebanon School District, Lebanon County
    Lebanon High School, Transformation, $816,133
  • Philadelphia School District, Philadelphia County
    Grover Cleveland School, Restart, $1,385,140
  • William Penn School District, Delaware County
    Aldan Elementary School, Transformation, $438,700
  • York City School District, York County
    Edgar Fahs Smith Middle School, Closure, $116,116
    Hannah Penn Middle School, Closure, $118,237
    McKinley Elementary School, Transformation, $563,000
    William Penn High School, Transformation, $730,710