Mann Middle School in El Cerrito has long been one of the schools that everyone wrings their hands over in San Diego. Most of its students are poor enough to get free lunches. Many are refugees struggling to learn English. For years it has suffered high teacher turnover and its scores have ranked among the lowest in the state.
So when test scores made a quantum leap this year, putting Mann ahead of schools it once lagged behind, it was a surprise to almost everyone. Everyone, that is, except the people at Mann itself.
“I knew it would come some day,” said engineering teacher Jose Lara. “The bottom line is, are they learning? And obviously they are.”
Mann went through the reform wringer as San Diego Unified searched for answers.
Five years ago, under pressure to improve under No Child Left Behind, the school district tried splitting Mann up into three smaller schools. That didn’t seem to work, so San Diego Unified pulled Mann back together again.
Principal Esther Omogbehin and the teachers set out to replace small schools with a big school that still feels small. When middle schools fall short, educators say kids slip through the cracks because the school hasn’t figured out who needs help and gotten them that help. To combat that, Mann created a system that combines human attention and hard data to track how students are doing, giving teachers timely, frequent information about students’ scores and their struggles.