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Students fleeing from failing schools
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Administrators of the Newton County School System recently reported a drastic increase in the numbers of local students transferring from schools failing to meet all requirements mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.

By Aug. 10, the deadline to submit transfer applications, 431 students had opted out of attending the school in their residential district. Last year only 56 students transferred as a result of the NCLB's school choice option.

Tab Bell, NCSS director of support services, said the increase could have stemmed from the addition of another school failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, but communication with parents probably affected the numbers more.

"We had a different timeline first of all," Bell said, "and I think we did a better job of letting parents know earlier what their options were this year."

This year, three schools in the district had to offer school choice because not enough students in the disabilities subgroup met or exceeded standards on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Porterdale Elementary and Clements Middle failed to meet AYP for the second or more consecutive year, marking them as in need of "school improvement."

Although Middle Ridge Elementary met AYP this year, they did not last year or the year before and must offer school choice until they meet AYP for two consecutive years.

Oak Hill Elementary did not meet AYP for the 2006-2007 school year but will not have to offer school choice unless it does not meet AYP this school year.

Each of the schools having to offer school choice hosted parent information nights explaining that only one subgroup out of 10 (elementary) and 14 (middle) had lower percentages of students meeting or exceeding standards than the state requires.

Many decided to keep their children at the school after hearing their child's subgroup was not affected, according to Bell. The meetings, however, did not deter others even though their children were not in the disabilities subgroup.

"I would say that the greater percentage transferring are normal education students that are generally successful in school," Bell said.

Deborah Robertson, NCSS associate superintendent for administration, said students are not the only ones affected by school choice.

"When a student moves," Roberson said, "everything has to move with him."

Teachers, books, desks, trailers and Title I funds will follow the students to their transfer schools.

"We will continue to look at class size and see what classes are needed at receiving schools and which can be decreased at the sending schools," Robertson said.

 Since the system must still provide transfer students with transportation to and from school under the act, the district hired five additional bus drivers and still needs one more to drive the 12 extra routes needed for NCLB transfer students.

Routes for transfer students will begin Aug. 20.

Indian Creek Middle will receive the most transfer students. This school year Principal Samantha Fuhrey said the school added eight trailer classrooms to its campus - two for growth within their attendance zone and six for NCLB transfers.

Fuhrey also needs to fill seven instructional vacancies because the increased enrollment has caused classes to exceed the maximum class size formulated by the state.

She said other than fielding phone calls from interested potential employees, the influx has progressed much more smoothly than anticipated.

"I think people are expecting things to be very difficult," Fuhrey said, "but actually all of the cogs of the wheel have fit together appropriately and at the right time."

She said her staff has identified at-risk students and will provide tutoring, remedial courses and motivational support to them.

Fuhrey added that parents and the community should be patient and not worry because qualified personnel at the schools and central office are dedicated to serving the children of Newton County.

"The community needs to know everything will be fine after everything settles down and we get these students where they need to be," Fuhrey said.