Terrible Turnover

School sees 21% of its pupils come and go

Payson Unified School District Office

Payson Unified School District Office Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Last year Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) teachers struggled to cope with a student turnover rate of 21 percent as students came and went. This year looks like more of the same.

The mobility numbers include students that started late, left early, came late and left early, or enrolled, withdrew and returned in the same year. “I have one student that left for Mesa, stayed a month, and is now back,” said JRE Principal Rob Varner during a presentation to the school board at its Feb. 25 meeting.

He said that while JRE staff often gets compliments on customer service, student achievement remains a concern.

The constant turnover affects performance, said Varner.

Julia Randall this year was given a C letter grade from State School Superintendent John Huppenthal. “We have a really high mobility rate that affects all my classrooms,” he said.

In essence, one in five children has their learning disrupted by an unstable living situation, which forces them to move between school districts.

As students come and go their test scores often suffer, said Varner. If a child transfers into the district just before taking the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test, her score goes on the school’s record.

“We try to test them the first week they are here (to assess their grade level understanding),” Varner said.

“They are often one to two grade levels below and not quite as accelerated (as JRE students).”

JRE teachers struggle to help the child get on track.

Varner said the Response to Intervention (RTI), Title I and special education programs work with many students.

“Thirty-eight percent of our school — two out of five kids — need specialized instruction,” he said.

Next year, the Common Core Standards and the Move on When Ready reforms will put a lot of pressure on third grade students to prove they can read at grade level or risk repeating third grade.

Varner said the elementary schools are working hard to avoid making students repeat a grade, but the mobility rate will affect those held back.

“I feel kids who’ve been in our program since kindergarten will do fine,” he said. “Those moving in or having a tough home life may have to be retained.”

When school board president Barbara Underwood asked how many Varner anticipated being held back, he said he hoped none, but planned on five to seven. “I’m optimistic none, but there will be some,” he said.

Varner also said that because of the lack of good jobs in Rim Country, families that have stable homes and students who often qualify as GATE (gifted and talented) or perform better in school have moved away.

Many families who remain struggle economically, which can affect the academic performance of the child.

“Close to 75 percent of my students are on free and reduced lunches,” he said. “Three out of four kids are at or below the poverty line — and there are a lot of latchkey kids.”

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