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Progress at struggling Sterling Elementary on shaky ground

Sterling Elementary Principal Nancy Guzman. hspace=4

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools plan that shuffles high-performing principals to struggling schools is heading into its second year. At the start of this past school year, we checked in with Principal Nancy Guzman who was placed at Sterling Elementary to turn the school around. WFAE's Simone Orendain caught up with Guzman to find out how the first year of her assignment went: Three years ago, only 52 percent of students at Sterling Elementary were on grade level. In 2008, that number dropped to 29 percent, nudged down by a tougher Reading test. This past year, under the guidance of the new principal Nancy Guzman, 57 percent of students were on grade level. And if retesting is figured in, the number was 65 percent. She says, "The teachers have gotten on board with increasing student achievement. They're all working very hard. It is a focus for every staff member. And I feel like this year we have great results to prove what we're doing is actually working. So we're very happy with that." Guzman attributes the improvement to a combination of individual attention given to each student's weakness and a longer school day. "We are part of the SES tutoring program, which is supplementary educational services. And so those children get 10-14 weeks of after school tutoring if they need it," says Guzman. "And then when those weeks are up, then we implement our own tutoring program with our own teachers. And so students stay there after school 'til 4:45 every Tuesday and Thursday and they get extra help in math and reading." In addition, Guzman says students could have even more tutoring before the school day, thanks to volunteers. But now, the school faces a challenge that could hinder progress. The CMS budget for next school year trims $120 million dollars. "The cuts in the budget, I'm very concerned about the impact it's going to have on our students at Sterling. Especially with losing our social worker who did a tremendous job this year on working students and working with parents on getting their children to school on time. Actually helping parents with whatever concerns they had and hooking them up with community agencies helping them do a better job with parenting," she says. Guzman says it's also going to be difficult to work without a parent advocate who acted as a liaison between volunteer groups from businesses and faith groups. And, she explains the Sterling social worker helped 57 homeless children and their families connect with social service agencies for help. The CMS budget cuts mean class sizes will be bigger. Guzman says at a school like Sterling the effects of a slightly bigger class could pose a setback. "One of the reasons we've made so many gains this year is that we had smaller class size where the children could get extra one on one help if they need it," says Guzman. She says the cuts are a major setback the school will have to try to surmount. "I think the principal has a tremendous amount to do with getting over it. My attitude is hey, we've got to teach these children to levels and we're going to do what we have to do," she says. "And we know we don't have the personnel that we had [this past year] to do that. But it is what it is and we're going to continue to provide a good education for all our students." The principals who are placed in failing schools must commit to serving three years and receive a 10 percent merit pay bonus. So far principals at 14 schools are participating in the program.