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District drops Title I at Holley with decline in poverty, funding


October 4, 2017

The Sweet Home School District has withdrawn Title I funding for Holley School this school year because the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches is the lowest among all schools in the district and total funding in the district decreased.

“Things seem to be improving for us,” said Todd Barrett, Holley principal and district Title I coordinator. The school now has fewer low-income students than the Junior High.

Just 38 percent of students at Holley this year qualify for free and reduced lunches, down 2 percent from last year. Families qualify for free school lunch if their income is less than 1.3 times the federal poverty income level. They qualify for reduced prices if their income is less than 1.85 times the federal poverty income level.

For a household of four, the poverty income level is $24,600 per year.

While the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches fell at Holley, it increased at the other three elementary schools, from 53 percent to 73 percent at Foster, 49 percent to 62 percent at Hawthorne and 48 to 54 percent at Oak Heights, said Rachel Stucky, district director of teaching and learning. The national average is 48 percent of students.

Sweet Home Junior High is at 42 percent, and Sweet Home High School is 35 percent.

Because the number of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches in Sweet Home is so high, all students at elementary schools receive free lunches, which means families do not fill out applications for the service.

That means the School District must estimate the number. Barrett said it is based on data from the state about income, and the number of homeless students is added to that number to calculate the total percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and Title I funding. The district makes the calculations in April.

Federal Title I funds are directed to schools with high numbers of low-income families.

Schools enrolling at least 40 percent of children from low-income families are eligible to use Title I funds for school-wide programs designed to upgrade their entire educational programs to improve achievement for all students, particularly the lowest-achieving students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s description of the program.

“We get X amount of dollars for each student on free and reduced lunch or living below federal poverty guidelines,” Stucky said. “It is my job to make sure students and families who are most in need that the money gets to them. It’s really meant to even the playing field for kids.”

Underscoring a link between poverty and academic achievement, children who are living in poverty have heard 3 million fewer words than children who do not live in poverty by the time they reach kindergarten, Stucky said. That’s why the district uses Title I funds to build family literacy.

For 2017-18, the school district will receive $619,000 in Title I funding, a decrease from 2016-17 when it received $689,000.

“You’ve got to put the money where the kids need it,” Barrett said. That money will be used at the other three elementary schools, where the number of low-income students has increased.

“It’s hard to say what’s going on as the economy is recovering,” Barrett said, but “we send the money where the most need is.”

Barrett succeeds Connie May as Title I coordinator. His job is split 60 percent as Holley principal and 40 percent Title I coordinator. He has office space at the district’s Central Office, he said, but he can do most of his work from his office at Holley.

As Title I coordinator, his job is to support teachers and principals, to manage the Title I budget and to let them know how they can spend their Title I funds.

Holley used Title I funding for extra reading instruction, a job Barrett handled last year, and it provided assistant time in classrooms.

Holley will have to adapt, he said. The students will continue to get the services they need, but the school will need to be more flexible. They’ll still get reading help with the teachers, special education assistants and teaching assistants.

“Teachers are trained to look for patterns of neediness and respond to that,” Stucky said. The district’s professional learning communities will help those students as well, as they find students who are struggling and target them for help.

“Truly, if we are being responsible, we are always looking for where the need is,” Stucky said.

“What’s exciting to me, it’s not about stigmatizing kids, labeling them. It’s about accepting kids when they walk through the doors. The job is still the same for us. My job is the same no matter what kids walk through the door.”


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