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Arapahoe marks first-ever AYP school performance
Dec 20, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer
Fremont County School District 38 made Adequate Yearly Progress for the 2011-12 academic year -- a first for the Arapahoe district.
"That's very huge for our kids, our staff and our community," superintendent Jonathan Braack said. "It is our kids' turn. It's our parents, community and staff's turn. Success breeds more success, and it's our kids' turn to be on the top. ... Our goal is by the end of 2014-15 to be one of the top 10 schools in Wyoming."
The school hosted an achievement night Nov. 26 to showcase the successful programs and celebrate the AYP milestone.
District 38 made AYP last year through "safe harbor." Districts that do not meet specific performance benchmarks can still earn AYP status if they show enough growth on the Performance Assessment for Wyoming Students.
PAWS is administered every spring to students in grades 3-8 and 11. The exam covers reading and math. Students in grades 4, 8 and 11 are also tested in science.
Braack said the K-8 school only needed to see growth in one student subgroup, but the school made requirements in 10 subgroups.
"This puts the K-8 school in a 'holding' (category), and if we meet AYP in 2012-13, it will remove K-8 out of improvement entirely," Braack said. "We're really excited about that. That's huge."
Braack said Arapaho Charter High School is on track to make AYP this year through safe harbor.
Arapahoe director of curriculum and instruction Chantell Denson said it's a common myth that it takes districts years to see improvement.
"The students here are smart, and we didn't make them any smarter," Denson said. "There were systems missing, and we put them into place."
How they did it
Braack said District 38 failed to meet performance levels in many of the subjects for several years. The breaking point was 2010-11, when not a single performance benchmark was reached.
Braack, who was hired in January, said Arapahoe agreed to use one of four U.S. Department of Education models in exchange for federal funding to aid in improving PAWS scores.
He said in the second half of last year, the district used the "turnaround" model, which requires replacing some staff and improving the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other strategies.
He noted the model isn't always popular, but it is research-based and can be powerful if used correctly.
The model requires districts to look at existing practices, find out what is not working and make immediate changes.
Denson said her focus is on curriculum, assessments and instruction. Current programs are being examined, and those deemed inconsistent with the curriculum are being replaced.
Denson is also working to pull together relevant data for teachers to use as a tool.
"We're trying to be extremely data driven," she said.
Braack noted the district's use of the professional learning community model, which asks teachers to think about what students are supposed to be learning, how the district can tell if students are learning, and what the district can do if a student isn't learning.
Braack said a lot of work is going into assuring progress continues and is safeguarded. Staff members are using a newly adopted strategic plan as a guiding tool that involves program fidelity, school culture, strong leadership and parent/community involvement.
"This plan has core objectives and core strategies on how to meet those goals," Braack said. "This is a tool that districts often engage, and the ones who use it well are the ones at the top."
Denson said it's critical that the district sticks with the plan, which is continually being reviewed.
"It defines what we are trying to do for everybody," she said.
Another way the district is working to keep the progress moving forward is through one-on-one time with students, and this is where special education professional Tom Bushyhead steps in. Bushyhead's responsibility is to keep track of students' progress and address children in need of help.
"My job is to fulfill needs and see what they're struggling in, and addressing expectations of kids," Bushyhead said. "When you can achieve those things, kiddos don't stop talking about it."
Braack said the progress in Arapahoe has been realized through a team effort, which includees the district Board of Trustees.
"The board here has done a lot to support the direction of the school district," he said. "They are very student-centered and truly want to see the district be successful."