TOPEKA — Two Kansas schools are being nationally recognized for exceptional student achievement in 2017.
Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, Easton Unified School District 449 in Easton, and Valley Heights Elementary at Blue Rapids, Valley Heights USD 498 in Waterville, are two of 100 schools across the nation to be recognized as National Title I Distinguished Schools.
“We are so proud of these schools for their outstanding academic achievement in 2017,” said Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. “This award shows the significant efforts these schools have made to meet the needs of their students. Their work is critical to helping our state achieve its vision of Kansas leading the world in the success of each student.”
The National Title I Distinguished Schools Program, which is a project of the National Title I Association, publicly recognizes qualifying Title I schools for the outstanding academic achievements of their students. The program has been in place since 1996 and showcases the success of hundreds of schools in one of three categories:
• Category 1: Exceptional student performance for two consecutive years.
• Category 2: Closing the achievement gap between student groups.
• Category 3: Excellence in serving special populations of students.
Pleasant Ridge Elementary School is being recognized for exceptional student performance for two consecutive years, and Valley Heights Elementary at Blue Rapids is being recognized for its work to close the achievement gap between student groups.
Tim Beying is superintendent for Easton USD 449, and John Bergkamp is superintendent at Valley Heights USD 498.
In order for a school to qualify for the Distinguished School award, it must have a poverty rate of at least 35 percent for the selected year; demonstrate high academic achievement for two or more consecutive years; and have met or exceeded state-determined criteria based on two or more consecutive years of achievement data. For more information, visit www.titlei.org.
Title I is the cornerstone of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It is the largest federally funded pre-college education program in the United States and provides funding to school districts across the country to aid in the education of economically disadvantaged students, according to the National Title I Association.
The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) used data from the past three years of the Kansas State Assessments to determine the two schools from Kansas to be recognized.
KSDE will provide a small stipend to each school so staff members can attend the 2018 National Title I Conference Feb. 8-11, 2018, in Philadelphia, where they will be recognized along with other distinguished schools from across the country.
“It is wonderful,” said Robert Green, principal of Valley Heights Elementary at Blue Rapids. “It tells all of those involved, staff and teachers, that their hard work is paying off.”
Green is proud of what Valley Heights Elementary students have accomplished. After struggling for a few years, Green said the school decided to “sit down and write a school improvement plan.” School personnel used the plan to prioritize areas where the school was having difficulty.
“Reading was one of those areas,” Green said. “After a nine-month process, we selected a new ELA (English language arts) curriculum. It is very intensive.”
The school also began offering intense interventions to struggling students, he said. Reading has been the school’s focus for the past few years. However, Valley Heights Elementary this year has added math as a focus area and has taken a new approach to its parent/family nights. Staff members talk to parents about student performance, but they also show parents how to engage and learn with their students with special themes.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Green said. “But we’re all on the same page. We’re working together.”
Amanda Brimer, principal at Pleasant Ridge Elementary, agreed that staff members working together is important.
“We came together as a group,” Brimer said. “We are constantly monitoring student progress, and we continue to be flexible at all times. We know and value that each student is unique and individual and that they come to school with different needs. And we want to meet those needs.”
There are 256 students who attend Pleasant Ridge Elementary, and the school has “an extremely dedicated group of teachers,” Brimer said.
“It’s an incredible honor,” she said. “We know these kids are special, and to have them recognized by someone else, especially on a national level, is indescribable.”
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