School leaders in Knightdale kept the focus heavily on steps they are taking to improve student achievement during a public meeting held Thursday.
The event, presented by Wake Schools and the Knightdale Chamber of Commerce to showcase recent work of the Knightdale Area Education Work Group, was titled “Beyond a test score, Knightdale schools - a new story.”
Accordingly, leaders of the six Knightdale-area schools spent time at a podium reeling off methods and programs that have proved beneficial for them while largely avoiding mention of data released earlier this month that raised questions over the achievement levels at some of the schools.
Eastern Area Superintendent Ed McFarland led off with an recap of the KAEWG, which the district formed in 2013 to address issues in Knightdale’s schools. Representatives of each school followed with short presentations on ways they are getting desired results.
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‘Remain focused and keep things simple’
As Forestville Road Elementary Principal Jesenia Hafner first pointed out, most of the school leaders stressed the importance of community and family involvement as a positive reinforcement for students.
“Every day starts with fist pumps as students get off the bus,” said Chris Coby, who joined the Hodge Road Elementary team as assistant principal in January.
Hodge Road, where a new magnet Spanish immersion program is offered, was the poster child for schools needing improvement according to the recent data, as the only Wake school to earn a failing grade in a scale based on testing and growth results.
“When I came on board in January ... I was aware of the (previous) numbers and was aware of the data and I want you know I chose Hodge Road,” Coby said. “It’s important with all we work to achieve that we remain focused and keep things simple.”
Coby said the school has taken a closer look at teacher development, student leadership and parent involvement as ways to move the school forward.
Knightdale Elementary second-grade teacher Katrina Ingram reviewed the school’s partnership with N.C. Arts in Action, its use of higher order questions, a nurturing program and balanced math instruction. She shared figures indicating trends of increased proficiency in reading and math at the school and said work has begun on a comprehensive instructional plan for the school.
Much of the focus of Lockhart Elementary Principal Daniel Zoller’s presentation was the implementation of Academic Parent Teacher Teams. The teams give parents a specific skill or activity to work on with their child at home and they meet periodically to track progress resulting from their involvement.
“It was pretty clear talking to the groups that parents wanted to help their child, it was just how to go about doing that the right way, with the right kind of focus,” Zoller said.
Zoller also said student progress information is coded and posted publicly in classrooms for parents to see how their students stack up against others in their class, and how the class is performing as a whole.
“That really kind of clears up the question every parent wants to know in the classroom – how are they doing compared to everyone else,” Zoller said.
East Wake Middle School Principal Rebecca Beaulieu turned the focus back on building strong relationships with students and the community.
Located in east Raleigh, called East Wake and drawing students from Knightdale, Beaulieu said identity has been a challenge for her school.
“We were really trying to find a way to get our parents into East Wake Middle School and get them in on what’s going on,” Beaulieu said. “Something as simple as if I can just get parents into my building, they won’t want to go anywhere else. As soon as you walk in you realize the students are wonderful, the teachers are wonderful, there’s a lot of amazing things happening in there.”
Beaulieu said the school’s first annual community day in May was a step in the right direction.
Emphasis on relationships
Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a three-day off-site workshop that gives school staffers pointers on building trusting relationships with students, has also affected the environment at EWMS.
“We shake hands every morning, we talk about good things, we reaffirm each other,” she said. “My students know that my teachers care about their well being. We can work on math or work on reading but the most important thing is showing the students we care about them, because that’s our top priority as educators.”
Hosting Principal Dr. Jim Argent capped the presentations informing the crowd of the five-year mission to have every student graduate Knightdale High college-ready.
“It doesn’t mean that they’ll go (to college) but they at least have the skills needed to compete in a global workforce,” Argent said. “When we say every student is college-ready, when we say culture of excellence, we mean all means all.”
Building relationships with the students, being innovative in teaching and having the mindset that every student can achieve excellence will help the school achieve its goal, Argent said.
“Every single child needs multiple adult champions,” he said. “Every one of our students not only deserves that but should expect that.”