Class of 2016

After a year of struggles, a meeting with Hillary Clinton, and a boost from his school, Jamal Trotman is headed to Morehouse in the fall

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Jamal Trotman graduates from Eagle Academy.

Jamal Trotman had a roller coaster of a senior year.

Five months ago, Trotman, a star student and athlete at Ocean Hill’s Eagle Academy, had SAT scores under review. He had missed crucial college application deadlines, and was recovering after a serious knee surgery from football.

”It’s kind of a setback,” he told Chalkbeat at the time. “This right here is my make-it-or-break-it for my future.”

But this past Tuesday, Trotman graduated with two prestigious scholarships. In the auditorium of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, he cheered, danced and hugged his friends and family. His blue graduation cap said “Morehouse ’20” — the historically black college in Atlanta he plans to attend next year.

“I’m excited. The way I see it, Atlanta is just, like, an up-and-coming city, something similar to Manhattan,” Trotman said. “I feel like it’s the perfect place for college and to start my life.”

In many ways, Trotman is lucky. A combination of hard work and sound mentorship helped him avoid the pitfalls that trip up so many of his peers. Across New York State, less than 60 percent of male students of color graduate from high school.

But his story remains a chilling illustration of how a talented young man almost had his college dreams dashed by a simple misunderstanding.

In May of his junior year, Trotman, a star student at his school, took the SAT, but he thought he could skate by without answering all the questions. He ended up with an 890 — far below the threshold of any college he wanted to attend.

After a higher-score retest was flagged by the testing company as suspicious, Trotman worked with his advisors to demonstrate academic progress. In the meantime, he applied to schools with his old test scores.

“He had a few months where he was extremely discouraged because he put in so much hard work to put up those scores,” said his principal, Rashad Meade. “That can really traumatize a young man, especially when you are doing the right thing.”

If he was worried, it didn’t show when he met Hillary Clinton at an April fundraising event for Eagle Academy. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said she wanted to see the schools’ approach “spread across America.”

Yet, even as Trotman shared the stage with Clinton and proudly announced that he had gotten into college, he remained unsure of which school he would attend. He told Chalkbeat at the time that he might have to go to a CUNY school and then transfer.

But that’s not what happened. The day after the Clinton event, he got good news via email: He had gotten into Morehouse College.

While he was initially hesitant about going to another all-male school, he knew it was a prestigious one.

“After doing a lot of research, I saw a lot of alums, I met a lot of alums at Morehouse, and I saw the way they carry themselves and how they’re successful,” Trotman said. He decided to accept.

Trotman’s story could have been very different, though, if Eagle Academy hadn’t intervened. Meade said school leaders reached out to Morehouse to put in a good word for Trotman while he was still fighting to get his scores. It was help he deserved, Meade said.

“For more affluent children, this is just par for the course. Those children can make one thousand and one mistakes,” he said. “Our young men don’t have that necessarily.”

Trotman still has challenges in front of him. Chief among them is figuring out how to pay for college. For the past few days, since school ended, he’s been filling out scholarship applications, he said. Morehouse costs more than $40,000 with tuition and fees and while he might be eligible for some financial aid, he has only raised a few thousand dollars in scholarships so far.

Still, he has been able to overcome the ordeal regarding his test scores rather than letting that derail him.

“Another child going through a similar situation could be completely disengaged and say. ‘I earned this grade. This system is attacking me. Forget school.’” Meade said. “That’s a child that is going to sit on the sidelines the rest of their life and let that define them.”

“We’ll never know what we prevented,” Meade added, “and I’m glad that we’ll never know.”

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.


Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.