In May 21 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Reporter
Russell Springs Elementary was recently recommended by the Kentucky Department of Education Instructional Equity Team as a statewide resource, or “model school,” according to Principal Kathy I. Hammond.
“We are really proud," she said. "We have a very diverse population and a large population ... we do a good job."
Russell Springs is only one of 23 schools in the state that was honored this year, according to the KDE.
She said she was surprised at the small number of schools that was given the distinction of a "model school.”
One school on the list, Roundstone Elementary in Rockcastle County, was visited by Russell County school officials several years ago because of their high academic record, now Russell Springs Elementary is on that list.
Hammond commended Wanda Helm, Tonya Adams and Michael Ford at the Board of Education for helping the school gather the evidence needed by the KDE.
“We had huge notebooks full of things to show them," she said.
The school was visited about two months ago by the Dept. of Education's Instructional Equity team to gather information that could be shared statewide with schools and districts needing information on how to close educational gaps within their schools.
Hammond said this was the first time RSES has received this honor and although it was a surprise, it was not something the school was aiming for.
She said the school just tries to not leave any student behind and to control academics, leaving no gaps.
"This was just out of the blue," she said. "You want to keep your school out of those gaps so you're district doesn't have them either. Everything we do affects the other schools around us too."
The teams documented Russell Springs Elementary's processes, practices, programs, people, policies and the physical environment that assisted schools in successfully closing achievement gaps.
The team looked at four common themes that were successful in closing their achievement gaps: student achievement, school community, culture and celebrations.
RSES aligned curriculum to the Kentucky Program of Studies and Core Content, defined what students needed to know and be able to do, provided a master schedule with full access to the core content curriculum for all students, organized teachers to regularly collaborate on analyzing student work, provided outlets for teachers to share innovative ideas, praised staff members who regularly interact with students, provided professional development that addressed professional practice to challenge, engage and motivate students for higher learning, hosted regular, cost effective formal and informal celebrations to recognize students for academics, behavior and effort and shared academic achievement with the family and community stakeholders through the newspaper, board meetings, family nights and business marquees, among other things.
Two years ago the school was audited by the KDE for improvement and state officials spent a week at the school, Hammond said.
"The thing they rated us the highest on then was our school culture and the way that we treat children," she said. "The way that we encourage and we meet the needs of our diverse population."
Five years ago Achievement Gap teams in the Department of Education began to review school progress data of Kentucky at the elementary, middle and high school levels to identify schools whose data showed a closing in achievement gaps in one or more of the student populations listed in Senate Bill 168, to include gender, disabilities, limited English proficiency, African American students and students with low socio-economic status.
According to the criteria used by the KDE teams, Russell Springs Elementary experienced whole school improvement over a period of two years, made adequate yearly progress and was not currently in school improvement, closed the achievement gap in one or more student populations in reading and/or mathematics by at least four points, met or exceeded state non-adjusted accountability indices from previous school years and closed the gap in 60 percent of the content areas for the identified student population.
"I know different ones that have came in and said when they walk in the school the get a good feeling," Hammond said. From the cooks, to the maintenance people, to the faculty and staff, the school's culture encompasses everyone.
"Our most popular person here is probably Mr. Jim (Kerr), our school maintenance worker," she said.