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Families must submit school choice forms today
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The deadline to submit Public School Choice applications is today for parents seeking to move their children out of Porterdale and Middle Ridge elementary and Clements Middle schools for the 2008-09 school year.

Clements, Middle Ridge and Porterdale remained on the needs improvement list after failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements submitted to the state as a part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

As a result, the county sent home letters and applications to all parents of the students in the three schools on July 7 and will give and them an opportunity to change schools. The county held three meetings, one at each school, to inform parents of their options.

Porterdale failed to meet AYP for the third consecutive year, keeping them on the needs improvement list, while Middle Ridge has also been identified as a needs improvement year 3 school after failing to make AYP this year. Middle Ridge made AYP last year but under NCLB, a school must make it two consecutive years to be taken off the list.

Clements has failed to meet AYP for the sixth consecutive year and must now develop a plan for academic improvement that focuses on math and reading/language arts.

As per state mandate, the county must allow parents to withdraw their children and place them in a school of choice. Each school has two options.

Students zoned for Clements have the option of attending Cousins Middle or Veterans Memorial Middle schools, while those zoned for Middle Ridge can attend either Heard-Mixon or East Newton elementary. Parents with students in Porterdale can send their children to Livingston or Ficquett elementary.

Darren Berry, discipline hearing coordinator for Newton County schools and former assistant principal at Clements said he understands the parent's frustration and say logistics is always a challenge.

"I've been on both sides and seen it from both ends," Berry said. "It's not an optimal transition. Transportation makes it especially frustrating."

According to Berry, the district used to shuttle students to their zoned school where they would catch buses to the choice school. Recently; however, the district has additional routes to essentially ferry out of zone students.

Even though Clements hasn't made AYP since the federal government enacted NCLB, Berry said the staff has tried each year to do what it takes to improve.

"We knew we were doing the best we could," he said. "The teachers were always doing what they could. There is a lot that goes into failing AYP. Sometimes all people see is that Clements failed again. It is hard to explain everything."

NCLB has come under fire from many district officials and teachers who feel like subgroups that are weighted the same should not be held to the same level.

"We want people to know we want to be held accountable," Berry said. "We just want something, a system that is fair."

Regardless of the structure of NCLB, Clements, Middle Ridge and Porterdale will be under the microscope next year. In 2007, 323, or 15.3 percent of schools in Georgia landed on the needs improvement list. The official 2008 results are expected sometime in August.

Oak Hill Elementary failed AYP last year, but was able to avoid landing on the needs improvement list after passing this year.

Berry said the county will allow students who enroll late at any of the three schools, the option to choose one of the choice schools. While the deadline is today, the county will hold another meeting on July 22 for those who missed the individual meetings and he says the county will be reasonable in accepting late applications. The meeting will be at the district office on Newton Drive in Covington.