Students change classes in May 2019 at Massena Central School’s Freshman Academy. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Massena Central School District officials must submit a plan of action to the state Education Department by the end of July after they were identified as a targeted district, with a high school subgroup of students with disabilities not meeting the criteria for state assessments, graduation rates and chronic absenteeism.

Curriculum Director Stephanie Allen told school board members on Thursday that they were notified in December that the district’s high school students with disabilities subgroup did not perform well in those areas.

She said the state Education Department looks at multiple factors and scores districts from one to four in several categories, with one being the lowest. Massena scored one in those three areas and, although it was for the performance of one high school subgroup, it placed the entire district as a targeted district.

Ms. Allen said there was a correlation between the areas where they scored low.

“If you weren’t here, are you going to do well in the classroom and on the test?” she said.

Once they received word that they had been named a targeted district, she said they pulled the information for the impacted students and appealed to the state Education department, telling them, “We have backup on these particular students. We don’t believe they should be there.”

But the appeal was denied. The state Education Department’s response in March was, “We appreciate your appeals. However, you are going to remain a targeted district,” Ms. Allen said.

“They said, ‘Did the student graduate?’ I said no, I could not tell them that the student graduated. ‘Was the student in attendance?’ No, I could not say something that was not truthful,” she said.

Then COVID-19 changed the education world and impacted the targeted district designation, with the state Education Department putting everything on hold.

“They send a team in. They interview all the buildings. They gather all of this data. They come up with a committee and create a plan. State Ed can’t do that now with COVID, so they put this on hold,” she said.

But not for long.

Ms. Allen said they received a “modified accountability plan” from the state Education Department in May so that improvement plans could begin to be created.

A school committee convened to begin the work and sent out a survey to all staff members for their input. The required District Comprehensive Improvement Plan was created and was presented for review and approval by the board of education on Thursday, to meet the July 31 deadline to provide it to the state Education Department.

“We worked for the next two months and that’s what brings me here today,” Ms. Allen said.

The top five priorities under the plan will be student engagement, literacy/writing initiative, family involvement, attendance and social emotional learning. She said those priorities already match many of the initiatives that are already underway in the district.

“I’m not asking for more work to be done on already tight budgets,” she said. “On July 31st we have to post it and send it to state Ed for approval. Then we would immediately have to start work in August on some of these initiatives.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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