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Turnaround: Olympic View’s excellence recognized by state

Fourth graders Michael Gourdine, left, and Ashton Prats look at a math sheet during a dice game designed to teach students about multiples and factors in Brianna Thompson’s class at Olympic View Elementary.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Fourth graders Michael Gourdine, left, and Ashton Prats look at a math sheet during a dice game designed to teach students about multiples and factors in Brianna Thompson’s class at Olympic View Elementary.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Fifty families chose to take their children out of Olympic View Elementary in 2009 after it was placed on the federal school improvement list due to state testing results. This week, $25,000 was given to Olympic View for its academic excellence.

At a staff meeting Monday, the cups were plastic and the drink sparkling cider, but the news was worthy of crystal and expensive champagne.

Olympic View Elementary Principal Martha Adams called her staff members together to celebrate what they thought was a recent honor bestowed upon them by The Center of Educational Effectiveness. When the teachers discovered that that was only half the news, there were a lot more cheers being made.

Last week, Olympic View was one of 94 schools recognized as a “School of Distinction” from The Center of Educational Effectiveness and the state’s chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.

In order to be considered for this award, a school must perform at or above the state averages on reading and math assessments in fourth, seventh or tenth grade. This year, the results of the 2009 spring standardized tests were considered. The schools that qualified were then evaluated on their combined math and reading improvement for the last five years, and the top 5 percent of schools were awarded.

While Olympic View teachers were busy celebrating that accomplishment, the district was being notified of a second honor for the school. Scott Black, the program development manager in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, called Oak Harbor Superintendent Rick Schulte last week and delivered another surprise: Olympic View was one of only five schools statewide to receive the 2010 Apple Award Construction Achievement Grant. The award, which is sponsored by the state legislature, recognizes the school’s academic improvement from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010 taking into consideration school size, geographic location and other factors.

Schulte said when he received the call he jokingly said to Black that he’d be happy to find another place to hang a plaque or banner in the elementary school, but then he heard the award came with some cash.

“Scott said, ‘oh by the way, you also get $25,000’, and I said, oh, well, we can find a place for that too!” Schulte said.

Schulte and Adams kept the news a secret until Monday’s staff meeting, and when Adams gave the announcement, the teachers were thrilled. They didn’t apply for the grant, it was simply given to the school.

After being placed on the school improvement list in 2009 for not making adequate yearly progress, the state testing bar set by the federal government, the teachers were discouraged. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, families have the right to transfer their children to another school in the district that met AYP standards if their school is on the school improvement list. Fifty families from Olympic View took the government up on that offer last year although in the 2008-2009 school year, Olympic View barely missed the mark. The students made AYP in 21 categories, but fell short in special education. This year, the school met every expectation and managed to beat out state averages in multiple categories.

“I remember a year ago when the staff and principal were discouraged and being labeled as a school of improvement,” Schulte said, “but Martha and the teachers, instead of whining and complaining, they said we can do this.”

As an example of Olympic View’s progress, the percentage of fourth graders that passed state tests increased by about 20 percent in writing, reading and math between the spring of 2009 and 2010.

Fourth grade teachers Amy Coleman, Brianna Thompson and Kim Kellogg said after being placed on school improvement, they revamped their classroom strategies and increased parent involvement.

“We tried to hone in on our communication with parents on what we thought was good work,” Coleman said. “We went from accepting below average work to expecting above average.”

Thompson said the teachers also made sure they were using the school’s curriculum and support staff to the full extent, doing additional reading activities and using support staff to make smaller reading groups possible.

The $25,000 grant money has to be used for a capital construction project on school grounds or on other public property in the school’s community. Adams said she plans to create a committee of older students to get their ideas. The money must be spent by June and currently Adams is leaning toward using it to update playground equipment.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon, who worked closely with the teachers last year, said he’s extremely proud of their performance and expects to see the new high standard continually reached.

“Quite honestly I’ve been bragging about what I’ve seen here,” Gibbon told the staff. “I hope this is encouraging to you and validating to you.”

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