The Altoona Area School District was not expecting an elementary school in the district to end up on a state list of lowest-achieving schools.
"This came in a flash," Assistant Superintendent Mary Lou Ray said Thursday. "It hit us unawares."
The state Department of Education released a list of schools, including Wright Elementary School, that were in the bottom 15 percent of combined Pennsylvania System of School Assessments reading and math scores.
It makes students eligible under a new law Gov. Tom Corbett signed in early July called the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program. The program gives a tax break to businesses donating to opportunity scholarship organizations.
It enables families whose students attend lowest-achieving schools and meet income guidelines to apply for a scholarship funded through a $50 million tax credit to attend another public school in a different district with open enrollment or a nonpublic school, including Catholic schools.
The law has gone through changes, possibly including at one point starting with the lowest five percent instead of the lowest 15 percent of schools, Ray said.
The regulations for the tax-credit program won't be finalized until next month.
More information is supposed to reach the school district by July 31, and it will have 15 days from then to notify parents, Ray said.
Wright was the only school in Blair County to make the list of 414 public schools in 74 districts statewide. Almost 40 percent are in Philadelphia.
Wright Elementary made 2010-11's PSSAs' Adequate Yearly Progress.
The lowest-achieving list was compiled after adding the math and reading scores from the assessments together and then picking those schools at the bottom, Ray said. But making the list had nothing to do with making AYP.
Preliminary PSSA data shows Wright Elementary is in warning status for 2011-12, Ray said.
A school gets a warning status under AYP when it
doesn't meet its goals for the first time in a current year, the education department said. It has another year to meet them, and is not subject to any consequences.
In 2012, schools across the state are required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to have 81 percent of students proficient in the PSSA's reading and 78 percent proficient in its math, Ray said. In 2013, those percentages jump to 91 in reading, and 89 in math. In 2014, school districts are required to have reached 100 percent in both subjects.
The school district received "quite a few" phone calls Thursday from parents inquiring about sending their child to another school within the district, Ray said.
Under the law, a parent cannot move their child between schools within the same school district, Eller said.
Ray said she didn't know what making the list meant for Wright's future or if parents will want their children to leave the school.
The school has "devoted" teachers, she said. The news was hard on the administration, and she imagined teachers felt the same.
"When Wright began, it was the school to go to," she said.
In recent years, the school has faced declining enrollment and rumors of closure, but in 2009, a school improvement committee implemented Operation Wright Focus, outlining goals in curriculum, community and parent involvement, the building and character education.
The school has added computers, and Ray thinks it will do more to boost parent involvement, an important element to academic success, she said.
"Teachers will be doing everything to make sure it does not happen again," she said of making the list.
Next year, the list will consider scores from 2011-12, which are already completed, though, she said.
Mike Henninger, a custodian at the school, has a son and a daughter who have already gone through the school, and another son about to enter fifth grade.
He worries about his job among rumors of the school closing, but his children have received a good education there, he said.
His oldest son received a $250 scholarship from Wright Elementary to attend the University of Pittsburgh, he said. Each elementary school offers scholarships, he said.
He doesn't know where the problem stems from, but believes parents, teachers, and the school district all have a small part in it, he said.
He didn't even think to check if his family's income qualified to transfer his son to another school, he said. He doesn't plan to move him.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.