New Initiative Offers Support for West Hill Elementary Schools

by Kennedy Wirth

Three West Hill elementary schools are creating plans to address the needs of both students and teachers to transform underperforming rankings into higher standardized test scores and long-term student comprehension.

Beginning next school year, Bryn Mawr, Campbell Hill and Lakeridge Elementary Schools will receive support and resources to improve student performance through a planning push called the West Hill Now! Initiative.

The Renton School District is requiring each school to evaluate the specific needs of their students and teachers and create action plans that will address long-term improvement in standardized test scores, student comprehension and building teacher support teams.

Each school must address a set of core principles designed by the school district and the schools in order to receive money to fund their proposals.

Renton School District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Damien Pattenaude said that money to support the initiative is not yet budgeted, but that the school district will plan to do so after reading the proposals. He would not identify the initiative’s cost.

Each school will receive a full time counselor, interventionist and health aide. Some of the requests made by schools will not require additional funding.

The initiative is modeled after the successful improvement plan at Lakeridge Elementary during the last few years.

The schools will create collaborative teaching teams to work on the curriculum and develop new teaching strategies used during class time. Data on how well the students learned the material with these new teaching strategies will be used by teaching teams to improve teaching for every grade.

Lakeridge Elementary Principal Jessica Calabrese Granger has spearheaded drastic improvements in raising standardized test scores and student’s reading comprehension at her school and was recently appointed as the Chief of School Improvement for the Renton School District to supervise West Hill Now! at the three schools.

“It’s very rare that a vision develops at the top level of a district and this fast gets planned and funded and supported so that next school year things will look different for kids,” said Calabrese Granger.

The West Hill area is an unincorporated sector of King County, not within any specific city limits. The area is made up of 8 different neighborhoods, with Skyway being the best known, and lacks significant infrastructure development, public and private investment and health care providers, according to Calabrese Granger.

“It’s important to acknowledge the hard work that the teachers and staff have done and this is a great community,” Dr. Damien Pattenaude, assistant superintendent of learning and teaching for the Renton School District said. “We look forward to engaging with the families and community.”

In 2011 the federal government considered Lakeridge elementary a persistent underperformer. The school then became part of the federal School Improvement Grant and was required to hire a new principal, lengthen the school day and school year, use student achievement to evaluate teachers and adopt a research-based improvement model, according to Calabrese Granger.

“The School Improvement Grant model here did something differently and it demonstrated that there are things that you can do to change the outcomes of kids on the hill,” said Calabrese Granger.

Lakeridge implemented its plan to improve student performance by focusing on math and raising test scores. The school hired content specific coaches focused on teacher development in math and literacy. Lakeridge partnered with the University of Washington to create lab days for the principal, teachers, and content coaches to create a learning strategy and then test it during class time. The idea is to come up with a theory with the instructional facilitators, embed it into teaching practices and observe what worked well with students, according to Calabrese Granger.

Lakeridge Rankings

“To have a coach at the professional learning communities and someone who is also working on the curriculum they are able to really think deeply about their units, about their assessments, about their next steps for their students,” said Teresa Lind, math instructional facilitator at Lakeridge.

According to a study done by the Institute of Education Sciences, the process to transform underperforming schools to meet district standards takes about one to three years. Lakeridge saw test scores increase almost immediately.

The school is now exceeding state and district test score requirements.

Bryn Mawr and Campbell Hill elementary schools have independently created proposals focused on improving student understanding, raising standardized test scores and supporting teachers to submit to the school district. They have both asked for content coaches, lab days and full-time counselors.

“When teachers really have what they need in terms of a valid and reliable curriculum a practical pacing guide the materials and the constant opportunity to learn together it’s an amazing thing,” said Calabrese Granger.

Beyond raising test scores and performance rankings, the West Hill Now! initiative aims to provide teaching staff with opportunities to learn and create a supportive environment that will increase confidence in teachers as the Lakeridge improvements have, according to Calabrese Granger.

“We are really focused on supporting the teachers and giving them the pacing guides that they need and don’t have time to plan for themselves,” said Calabrese Granger.

Featured image by Kennedy Wirth