After seeing positive changes in its first year as a “model school,” West Boulevard Elementary School next year plans to strengthen life skills, reinforce relationships between parents and teachers and add an aide to help kindergarteners’ transition into school.
The model school concept is meant to try to bridge academic achievement gaps among students. At West — Columbia’s first model school, selected in part because of its failure to meet state test-score standards — the goal was to raise overall student achievement, specifically in literacy.
That happened, principal Vicki Robb told the Columbia School Board on Monday night. West saw increases in math and reading scores as well as a significant drop in the number of times students sent to the principal’s office for discipline.
As the school broadens its focus to include social skills, Robb said, it has applied for a grant to fund “We Can Change Our Culture One Book at a Time.” The program would put a new book in each classroom, about one a month, to teach life skills — such as perseverance, getting along and treating each other with respect — while still encouraging literacy. West will find out whether it gets the $2,465 grant next month.
Robb said another goal for next year is to strengthen the family-school partnership. Last August, she and another administrator visited the homes of select students; this August, each teacher will visit the homes of his or her students to begin an early partnership. Teachers are required to conduct in-home visits at least once during the year.
West also plans to hire an instructional aide for kindergarten classrooms to help students, who come to kindergarten without preschool experience, she said.
Robb said she is encouraged by the first-year results. In the first month of the school year, fourth-grade students averaged less than 25 percent correct on math problem sets. By month nine, the number increased to more than 45 percent correct, on similar problem sets.
The literacy goal at West was to raise the grade level at which students were reading through intense reading programs. During the school year, 75 percent of third-graders reading below their grade increased their reading level by a full grade or more, and 56 percent of below-level fourth-graders saw their reading levels improve by a full grade or more.
One of those programs, Fast ForWord — a computer-based program focusing on language development and processing — allows students to track their own assessment progress.
“Their own growth is their motivation,” Robb said.
Discipline visits to the principal’s office decreased from 1,340 in the 2003-04 school year to 555 in the 2004-05 school year. Robb said less time in the office allows students to increase the time they spend in the classroom. Numbers are down because of positive tutoring and mentoring programs and teachers were also encouraged to practice problem-solving when confronting disciplinary problems, Rob said. Columbia Superintendent Phyllis Chase, who championed the model school concept, was unavailable for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
Cheryl Cozette, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said it’s too soon to gauge whether West’s success will continue and whether its programs would be used at other schools. She said, however, that the district would consider applying the programs elsewhere if they are shown to increase student achievement.
Robb’s report to the school board on West Boulevard Elementary School will be posted online next week at the district’s Web site, www.columbia.k12.mo.us.