David Douglas grade school wins national recognition

Why was Gilbert Heights Elementary School the only grade school in Oregon to win the title of National Title I Distinguished School? Read this article and see …

Gilbert Heights Elementary School Principal Kevin Fordney says the award belongs to the entire staff of the school, because of the way they work together improving each child’s educational experience.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
Being an educator in outer Southeast Portland is a challenging. An increasing number of their students come from less affluent – in fact, poverty-level – families. And, more of their kids are learning English as their second language.

Yet, this David Douglas School District school, Gilbert Heights Elementary, was the only school in the state this year to be awarded the title of National Title I Distinguished School.

“This is an affirmation for our staff, for the work they do every day,” Principal Kevin Fordney told us in an exclusive interview. “Indirectly, this award affirms that David Douglas schools are working hard to help a diverse group of students make good things happen.”

No overnight success
The award was six years in the making, Fordney said. It started with the expectation that children can learn; and the realization that the demographics of the area are changing.

“The school’s improvement process was started by Principal Sherrie Barger and her staff,” Fordney explained. “They took the time to stop, look at research, and determine where they were succeeding, and what they needed to strengthen.”

The school focused on making sure each child has good reading skills said the principal. “Reading is the foundation for success in every subject area of school. It also provides personal enjoyment for those who are good at it. We pour lots of effort into reading skills.”

The result: Over the last six years, staff developed, implemented, and worked together to support student achievement in key subject areas.

Beyond “teaching to the test”
Some educational advocates feel schools measured as being successful merely show kids how to “ace” achievement tests. We asked if “teaching to the test” might have been Gilbert Heights Elementary’s method for success.

Fordney pondered our query for a moment.

“That’s a good question. The answer is ‘No. We teach to the standards.’ And because we teach to the standards, students learn what they need to be learning to be well educated. Because they are well educated, they can pass the tests.”

Secret of their system
Asked if there is a secret to their success, Fordney explained, “Everyone here has agreed to ‘own’ the responsibility to help all of the kids learn, according to standard programs we’ve found to be successful. The individual classroom teacher is supported by other teachers who collaborate with them.”

On several occasions during our conversation in his office, Fordney emphasized, “This is a team honor. Every single person in the building has contributed to this award.”

Note to parents
We asked what parents can do to help their youngsters become better students.

“Reading to and with your child is important. So is being connected with your school, and your child’s progress,” Fordney responded. “We believe the success is a partnership between the student, school, and family. We appreciate parents’ help, and hope they continue to support our efforts.”

The school will receive a $5,000 award, which will be used to further assist in student achievement. The school will be honored at the National Title I Conference January 27-30 in Long Beach, California.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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