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French Camp: ‘Remarkable improvement’

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French Camp: ‘Remarkable improvement’

Joanne Balestreri, right, receives recognition from Max Vargas (representing state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani) and Dillon Delvo (representing state Sen. Lois Wolk) on behalf of French Camp Sch...

VINCE REMBULAT/The Bulletin


POSTED January 13, 2010 3:06 a.m.
How tough was it for French Camp School to exit from program improvement?

Consider this: Of the 903 California schools in “year five” status, the Manteca Unified elementary school site was one of the 10 to meet the criteria for this year.

“We were in the top 1 percent,” Principal Joanne Balestreri said prior to Tuesday’s school board meeting.

A reception was held in the board room of the administration building as staff members, both current and past, joined in the landmark celebration.

“It was a challenge, particularly with the turnover in staff, a budget crisis, and bringing the new teachers up to speed (with the program improvement plan),” Balestreri said.

Having met its Adequate Yearly Progress goals for the past two years – the school also made remarkable strides in state’s Academic Performance Index – French Camp knew months ago that it was exiting from Program Improvement under the federal mandate, No Child Left Behind.

The official word came last month from the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell.

“The commitment of your school and staff to improve student achievement is to be commended,” said Rachel Perry, director of academic accountability and awards division, in the Dec. 4 letter. “Each member of your school staff and the entire school community, especially the students, are to be congratulated for their efforts and contributions to your school’s improvement.”

All was not looking good for French Camp in 2006-07.

It was year four of the Title 1 program improvement status. A turnaround was necessary as the school was at risk of being taken over by the state looming as a possibility.

The process of the major restructuring included French Camp receiving all of the district’s Title 1 funds, a skeleton plan, and appointing a new principal.

Balestreri came from Golden West School at midyear.

The plan also included certified staff signing assurances, working additional days while receiving extensive training.

An afterschool intervention program and full-day kindergarten classes were both implemented.

The AVID program was added along with a part-time program coordinator, a counselor, and an academic coach.

A parent center was created with two parents serving as liaisons and parent involvement encouraged.

Paraprofessionals were brought in to provide primary language support to non-English speaking students.

“The big change was combining migrant students with the regulars,” Balestreri said. “There were concerns with the families.

“But it went on without a hitch.”

She indicated that it took a team effort from all of the above to achieve the restructuring goals under the “Soaring to New Heights” plan.

What’s next?

The goals at French Camp, under the program improvement exit report for 2009-10, calls for all students to be proficient in Math and English Language Arts.

“Our English-only students continue to outperform our English learners by approximately 10 points. So we are targeting this group for preference in our intervention programs after school.

“We have a strategic plan in place that we believe will ensure French Camp reaches AYP and API targets for next year. This plan was developed through data analysis, collaboration with staff and school site council,” the report said.

Added Balestreri: “We’ll be just as focused and nervous as before.”
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