The Star-News

Numbers are up at Castle Park

Sat, Aug 24 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Robert Moreno

Those empty desks at Castle Park Middle School are a thing of the past.

After having one of the lowest student attendance rates in the Sweetwater Union High School District, students at Castle Park Middle School are showing up to class.

In fact, the home of the Knights now has the highest attendance rate in the district.

“Our attendance rate is at 99 percent, it’s the highest in the 80-year history of the district,” said Castle Park Middle School Principal Robert Bleisch.

“It’s increased from one of the lowest in the district to number one in the district in the last three years.”

And the middle school in Chula Vista has a junior high school in National City to thank for turning their attendance record around.

The Granger Turn Around Model was adopted by Castle Park Middle School after watching Granger Jr. High School repair its attendance and academic reputation.

Granger Jr. High’s success with this model garnered the school the top honor for Excellence in Urban Education by the National Center for Urban School Transformation.

Since then National City Middle School and Mar Vista High School have copied the model too.

When the Granger Turn Around Model launched at Granger, Bleisch helped run Granger’s after- school program and has taken the recipe for success with him to Castle Park where it is paying dividends.

The model is built on three core systems of academic success: a mandatory attendance system, a mandatory behavior system and a mandatory academic support system.

The Granger Turn Around Model” uses a data-driven system that collects achievement data.

Now that students are attending class, the academic performance is soaring.

Bleisch said academic scores and attendance go hand in hand.

The principal said Castle Park Middle School has seen nearly double-digit gains in its core subject areas, which are English language arts,  math 7, algebra and science.

English language arts scores increased from 49 percent to 61 percent. Math 7 scores rose from 28 percent to 49.

Students in algebra raised their scores from 35 percent to 58, and science saw a nine-point jump from 66 to 75 percent.

As a result of the model, the school also puts all of its eighth graders in algebra, which Bleisch said is a controversial thing to do because many people feel kids in the eighth grade don’t have the skills yet to succeed in algebra.

“We now have the highest test scores of any school on the Westside of the 805 in algebra,” Bleisch said.

Bleisch said cutting class affects children living in poverty more because they lack the resources outside of school to make up for lost learning.

Castle Park Middle is deemed as one of the poorest schools in the district, Bleisch said, with 65 percent of its students as English language learners.

Bleisch said the number of kids that qualify and receive free and reduce lunch defines a poor school. Eighty-six percent of the students at Castle Park Middle School receive free and reduced lunched.

Castle Park Middle School is setting the standard for poorer schools, Bleisch said.

“Never in the history of the Sweetwater District has the poorest school had the highest attendance in the district,” he said.

Now that kids are in the classroom, Bleisch said, the challenge is to get the parents to buy into the system.

© 2009 The Star-News