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Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 01:40 am

Ball Charter’s waiting list, diversity grows

Hugh Drake once questioned the Springfield Ball Charter School’s unique teaching strategies, which include multi-age classrooms for kindergarten through eighth grade students and a learning scale that measures student progress without grades or report cards. Now, Drake advocates the school’s success, professionally as board president and personally as the father of two students (his son is in third grade, his daughter is in kindergarten).

“I’ve become a very big fan, and really, the growth of our kids and students tells the whole story,” Drake says.

He joined Ball Charter principal Nicole Gales and assistant principal Mark Durrett earlier this week in presenting the school’s annual report to the Springfield School District. Ball Charter, which opened in 1998 as one of the state’s first charter schools, receives 90 percent of its funding and support from the Springfield School District. It doesn’t require students to pay tuition or to meet any requirements other than living within district boundaries.

According to the report, which collected data from the past three years, student enrollment and interest continue to increase. This year, Ball Charter enrolled 457 students, as opposed to 436 in 2007. There were 323 students on the waiting list as of Dec. 4, 2009; there were 270 waiting at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.

The diversity of Ball Charter’s student population has also grown. In 2007, nearly 48 percent of students were white, 38 percent were black and the remaining 14 percent were multi-racial, Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic. This year, according to the report, nearly 44 percent of students are white, 43 percent of students are black and 13 percent are multi-racial, Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic and American Indian or Alaskan native.

The report also indicates that Ball Charter’s low-income student population has increased, from nearly 32 percent in 2007-2008 to 43 percent in 2009-2010.

“We continue to be a diverse school that gathers from all of District 186,” Gales says. “Any child that chooses to apply to our school is open to do so.”

Ball Charter also provides Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores in reading and math from the last three years. The report shows that reading scores increased, with 78 percent of all students meeting and exceeding standards in 2009, as opposed to 76 percent in 2007. However, the school’s math scores decreased, with nearly 87 percent of all students meeting and exceeding standards in 2009, as opposed to 90 percent in 2007.

Ball Charter notes that there was growth in low-income students meeting and exceeding standards by 2.8 percent in reading and 4.2 percent in math.

Gales says she’s pleased with the progress, but that gaps between black and white students still need to be addressed. According to the report, white students scored nearly 28 percent higher than black students in reading and 20 percent higher in math in 2009. Those percentages have increased since 2007.

“We increasingly want to improve our students,” Gales says. “It’s not just about scores — it’s about improving the quality of educational life in learners.”

Ball Charter uses its learning scale to measure how much each student grows each year. Gales says this method, paired with its teaching strategies, contributes to the school’s success.

“It’s about where did the student start and where are they at now,” Gales says. “Looking at their growth is important.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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