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Deadline Looms for Kinoshita, Marco Students to Transfer

The two San Juan Capistrano schools are now on "program improvement," akin to academic probation. When that happens, parents have the option to send their children to other campuses.

Parents have until Sept. 27 to decide whether to pluck their children out of and —each on academic probation.

Though Marco Forster has shown steady improvement in recent years on tests that measure students' academic performance, neither it nor Kinoshita has met benchmarks required of schools that receive federal funds under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

“We’ve done a great job. We’ve done a phenomenal job. But we have more to do,” said Marco Forster Principal Carrie Bertini.

With the release of various standardized test results in August, both Marco and Kinoshita entered what's called program improvement. Kinoshita has been on program improvement in the past, exiting the strict overview two years ago but relapsing this year.

This is Marco's first time on program improvement.

On Tuesday, Bertini sent a letter home with students explaining program improvement and the parents’ options. In addition, she is hosting a meeting 6 p.m. Thursday in the school multipurpose room.

Students there have the option to transfer to  in San Clemente or . Kinoshita students may choose between in San Juan Capistrano and in Laguna Niguel.

Selection of those schools receiving the students is based on capacity and space availability, in addition to other No Child Left Behind requirements. They will not be over-burdened with the flux in students, said Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent of education services for Capistrano Unified.

"Staffing ratios at receiving schools will remain the same as all other CUSD schools," she said.  The district will provide transportation for parents choosing to switch to Shorecliffs, Aliso Viejo Middle School, Hidden Hills or Ambuehl.

Marco Forster’s academic performance index score has been steadily increasing since the state first started keeping track of it in 1999, but the middle school’s English learners and students with disabilities did not hit their adequately yearly progress goals in English-language arts and in math.

T, which is the California Department of Education’s minimum goal for all schools, Bertini said. But there is a distinct achievement gap between white students and Latinos.

Marco Forster became a Title I school—meaning it was identified as a school serving a large number of poor students—three years ago, Bertini said. The designation, she suspects, was prompted by the downturn in the economy.

It’s a mixed blessing: The school is under increased scrutiny for performance, but it also receives about $1 million more than non-Title I middle schools in the , Bertini said.

Marco has put that money to use in many ways, including extra teachers, counseling, training and technology, she said. In addition, just this year, Marco has encouraged students to take a zero period so that they can take two electives.

In this way, students can take an AVID class—which is designed to help students who would be the first in their families to attend college—or an extra hour of English if they are English learners and still be able to take a fun elective that enriches their school experience, Bertini said.

Attendance in zero period has jumped from 60 students last year to nearly 300 students this year, while AVID class sizes have doubled, Bertini said. She said the extra federal funds benefit all the students, not just those economically disadvantaged.

Last year at another school on program improvement,  in Mission Viejo, 17 of 380 eligible students switched schools, said Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent of education services for the district.

At Marco Forster, Terase Holbrook's seventh-grade daughter won't be one of the students opting out. 

"Both my girls have had a positive experience with the education provided at Marco," said Holbrook, "Camille went all three years and is now attending , taking AP classes and has passed the tests."

Cindy Sterkel's daughter Kaely, a seventh-grader, is staying put, too. "Kaeley had a fabulous year last year, and things are good so far this year," she said. 

Many have called for the overhaul of No Child Left Behind, whose goal is to have every child reach proficiency in English and math. In an August e-mail in response to the latest state achievement scores, district spokesman Marcus Walton said the law’s accountability system is one “many describe as flawed—including parents, elected officials and education experts.”

Bertini said she doesn’t hate No Child Left Behind.

“It’s flawed, but it does help us focus on what we need to be focused on,” she said. “I have a competitive spirit. I want to rise to the challenge.”

Her goal: an API of 900. Can she do that in one year? "Maybe two."

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