District discusses goals

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The school board met Monday, Oct. 16, where it discussed summer school, the fourth grade class and new goals for the elementary and middle schools.

The West Liberty Summer School Program concluded in June, but organizer and teacher Richard Ortega shared about the program.

In its second year, a total of 96 students from grades Kindergarten through third attended West Liberty Elementary School for 20 half-days of instruction.

“The students we invited were those that fell below state standards from the FAST assessment,” said Ortega, specifically referring to reading.

They invited 159 students, 99 started the program and 96 made it to the end, so only three students dropped. This was up from last year.

“The attendance was pretty good once they were there,” said Ortega. “I had 25 students miss the first week due to catechism classes and bible classes.”

The point of the summer reading focused classes was to increase the students reading skills, ultimately improving their performance on assessments.

While they did reach that goal with many of the children, it wasn’t to the extent that Ortega wanted on a whole.

Accordingly, he’s going to examine the program’s needs, including its length, time of year, curriculum and format.

Most of all he wants to collaborate with local churches, fully believing that if students wouldn’t have missed the first full week of summer school they would have grown more.

“The ones that showed up for the four weeks, they made progression,” said Ortega.

The program took eight teachers and seven paras, while the curriculum was SRA Early Intervention in Reading.

West Liberty Bank donated $2,500 and T-shirts for every child who attended while First United Church provided some snacks from the food bank.

Next, elementary school Principal Jeni Laughlin gave a look at fourth grade reading scores to the school board upon special request.

After several years of concerning reading data, the school board wants to keep an eye on that particular grade level, especially reading.

“There was a pattern that we saw that we said ‘We have to figure out what’s going on here,’” said Board President Chris Martin.

According to Principal Laughlin fourth and eighth grade classes across the U.S. show dips in proficiency in both reading and math.

“We were willing to accept that to an extent, but it looked like that dip was pretty low,” said President Martin. “So we just wanted to make sure we weren’t missing something in that grade level.”

All that being said, this year’s fourth grade class has actually shown an improvement in reading.

Last year, while third graders, 72 percent of the class was proficient for reading on the Iowa Assessment. This year, as fourth graders, they’re up to 75 percent proficient.

“So they did show some growth, not a significant amount, but we are looking into why that growth and how can we make it a bigger growth,” said Principal Laughlin.

“Across the U.S. fourth and eighth grade do show dips in proficiency,” she added. “That is a reality. Is it a common one? Yes, but what can we do to continue to make it better?”

Laughlin just began in her role as principal of the elementary school at the beginning of this school year, taking over for retired principal Dr. Nancy Gardner.

While she provided the fourth grade info for the school board, she and the faculty are currently examining the entirety of the elementary school, its grades and how things are run.

They’re working on standards alignment, sources alignment and implementing instructional strategies across all grades, 1st through 5th.

That involves examining curriculum, insuring that students receive enough time of daily, uninterrupted, learning and refocusing the Multi Tiered Support System (MTSS).

Basically, Principal Laughlin’s sites are set on the elementary school as a whole, including the fourth grade.

“I’m not ok with the status quo if it’s not working. If it’s working, great, we can always improve it somehow,” she said. “But I’m not ok with ‘just because this is the way that West Liberty has always done it.’”

In that vein, both middle school Principal Vicki Vernon and elementary school Principal Jeni Laughlin were on hand to talk about school improvement plans.

“These goals were not created in isolation, they were created with ESL teachers, literacy teachers and special-ed teachers,” said Principal Vernon. “So, everybody knows what this goal is and helped create it.”

The all encompassing plan for both buildings is divided into five goals, the first three aim to improve student proficiency in reading, mathematics and science.

The final two goals attempt to bump up teacher retention and increase communication with parents in the community.

“Great goals, but what are you doing differently to move you in that direction? asked School Board Member David Millage. “What are you doing differently?

On the middle school side principal Vernon talked about aligning reading curriculum to the core, better bench mark test analysis and a better integration of SIOP.

SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) helps teachers prepare all students, especially English Language Learners (ELL) for college and careers.

Principal Vernon brought up restructuring the middle school’s after school assistance program on Tuesday and Thursday to give better instruction to students.

One middle school strategy to increase community involvement involves teachers sending out postcards to students for individual achievements.

“We hope every trimester every student will get some kind of positive accolade about what they’re doing at school,” said Principal Vernon.

The middle school has also begun to send out newsletters to families, they plan to put together some sort of survey soon to examine the effectiveness of the letters.

The elementary school is in the same boat as the middle school, sharing the same five goals to better students, faculty and community involvement.

However, the building will be attempting to build up data from student assessments for the next couple of years in math, english and science.

“It’s kind of a baseline year for the elementary for a variety of reasons, one is that I’m new to the building,” said Principal Jeni Laughlin.

In math all students, grades one through five, will be given a new universal screener.

In science teachers will be asked to demonstrate understanding of the new Next Generation Science Standards.

When it comes to english, science and math both the middle school and elementary school’s have goals of increasing student proficiency.

Back to the middle school, the building is looking at how it handles scheduling, student interventions and teacher development.

Basically, as Principal Laughlin alluded to, they’re taking a step back from how things have been done for several years and reexamining it all.

“I’m one that I will do anything for you, and people will do anything for each other, so long as they trust and know that we’re all equal in this game,” she said.
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