Parkrose school wins State Distinguished Title I educators award

Discover what’s been happening at Sacramento Elementary School that’s earned it recognition by both state (and and soon) national educators …

Officials say that full-day kindergarten classes – such as this segment being led by Jakob Curtis, English Language Learner teacher at Sacramento Elementary School – help all kids, regardless of their language background, to do better throughout their educational careers.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Stevie Blakely, Principal of Sacramento Elementary School, says she remembers the phone call she got not long ago from her boss, Parkrose School District superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray.

This call wasn’t regarding mundane-but-important topics like budgets, personnel, or curriculum.

“She was notifying us that we’d won a Title I Distinguished School Award,” Blakely exclaims, as we walk toward a kindergarten classroom at the school.

“It means that, among all Oregon schools, we’ve made the most improvement on our testing scores with our English Language Learning kids, in both English and math. We increased scores by 30 percent.”

As we enter the classroom, English Language Learning (ELL) specialist Jakob Curtis is enthusiastically leading his young students through a vocabulary-building exercise. The children respond to him like members of a TV game-show audience.

When the class ends Curtis joins us, as we walk to the school office.

“Of all our 400-plus students, more than 100 speak a language other than English at home,” Curtis tells us. “School is their main exposure to English. We have several different programs in place to support those kids as they learn English. As their language skills increase, they’re better able to access all of the teaching and learning that their classroom provides.”

Teaching and intervention
We enter the school office, and meet Learning Intervention Specialist Arlene Lemieux. “I provide intervention in reading and math for ELL and other at-risk students who are not meeting state benchmarks for these subjects.”

Learning intervention, Lemieux explains, uses one-on-one student evaluation and small-group teaching techniques to help keep kids struggling with math and reading skills from falling far behind their classmates.

Giving us the broader picture, Blakely says, “We have a school-wide assessment three times a year in math and reading. This helps us identify kids who are not meeting the mark. For them, we provide small group instruction, and we use special computer software and specially-designed programs for teaching reading and math.”

Jakob Curtis, English Language Learner teacher, Arlene Lemieux, Learning Intervention Specialist, and Principal Stevie Blakely say they’re pleased to learn about Sacramento Elementary School’s Title I Distinguished School Award

Lemieux adds, “We use differentiated instruction. This means teaching according to a student’s needs, not following a lock-step program.”

“We also provide sheltered programs,” Curtis says, “such as providing one-on-one vocabulary development and guided language acquisition help on the side.”

Teaching to the test?
We pose the question: “Are you merely preparing kids to pass the tests, or are you really educating them?”

“Learning is our primary objective here,” replies Blakely. “What we do is make sure our kids are successful in school. The tests give us an indicator of how well the kids are doing. Another way to put it, is: Here at Sacramento Elementary School, we don’t allow kids to fail. Whatever it takes to help them succeed, we’ll do it.”

“It’s not about just fitting students into our program,” adds Curtis. “We figure out what the child needs, and help them. And, all of the teachers work hard to make their instruction available to their entire class. This is why, I believe, we, as a school, have won this award.”

Overcoming huge gaps
“Right,” agrees Blakely. “It is not about what any one person does in this school. This recognition is for all of our staff, who not only work hard, but also work together to make a real difference.”

The principal reminds us that 70% of the school’s students qualify for low-income lunch programs; and a quarter of them speak a language other than English at home. “These are huge gaps to overcome. But, within the last two years, we have now been rated as an exceptional school by the State of Oregon. This award is like getting the cherry on the top of our sundae.”

Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent of Parkrose School District, shows us the official award acceptance form.

Superintendent is all smiles
When we stop at the Parkrose School District office, Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent of Parkrose School District says she’s proud of the staff members at Sacramento Elementary School.

“To be recognized as the only school by the Oregon Department of Education for improved learning among students whose primary language is not English – that’s a marvelous accomplishment. It doesn’t happen every day. It recognizes the excellent leadership and instruction for ELL students at our school.”

When Carla Wade from the Oregon Department of Education asked if they’d travel to Nashville on January 29 to accept the award, “I told her, I’m never turning that down. This school has earned it.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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