Fourth-grade reading and writing teacher Rachel Caswell works with a small group at Cline Elementary School (Campbell County), a Blue Ribbon School, Nov. 10, 2010. The students were learning about vocabulary and main ideas from the Bill of Rights. Photo by Amy Wallot

Fourth-grade reading and writing teacher Rachel Caswell works with a small group at Cline Elementary School (Campbell County), a Blue Ribbon School, Nov. 10, 2010. The students were learning about vocabulary and main ideas from the Bill of Rights. Photo by Amy Wallot

By Susan Riddell

How can a conga line pave the way to a national award?

Cline Elementary School (Campbell County) has the answer.

The U.S. Department of Education recently named the Pre-K-5 elementary school, housing 330 students, as a 2010 Blue Ribbon School along with four other state public elementary schools.

The award recognizes schools that help students achieve at high levels and that make significant progress in closing achievement gaps. The program rewards schools that score in the top 10 percent statewide in reading and mathematics on state assessments. Blue Ribbon Schools also must meet Adequate Yearly Progress under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Cline Elementary Principal Lynn Poe serves as the official conga line leader along with the school’s mascot. Together, they start with 5th-grade students, going room to room and collecting all students to build the line and start the party.

“When we accomplish a goal, we celebrate,” said Poe, who is in her fourth year as principal. “At Cline we focus on the positive and try not to spend time pointing out mistakes.”

While conga lines don’t equal Blue Ribbon School honors, they do reinforce a positive attitude and let students know they are succeeding in the classroom. That communication of success is a strong component of the Blue Ribbon School award.

Praise comes in many forms, according to Poe and staff developer Myssi Turner.

“We have huge assemblies where teachers dress up and dance to give out the wonderful news of scores,” Turner said.

“In classes, teachers celebrate when students reach their goals by giving incentives that the students vote for. We give high fives and sprinkle stars of confetti in their hair, too, for reaching their goals. It is the little things that mean a lot to the students. Just knowing that the teachers recognize their hard work motivates them to keep succeeding.

“Parents are invited to hear the news during conferences, the assemblies and MAP Night,” Turner added. “We send newsletters home to explain what is happening in and around the school along with our data.”

Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, is the formative assessment Campbell County uses three times a year to measure students’ growth. MAP Night is an informational night for parents to learn about the assessment, see their child’s scores and ask questions.

Celebrating and positive reinforcements are small pieces of the strong culture at Cline Elementary, according to 4th-grade teacher Abbey Blythe, who vividly remembers her first day at the school three years ago when she was a long-term substitute.

“It was just a couple of days before the winter holidays, and I thought I would be walking into a madhouse, but to my surprise all students were actively engaged and working diligently. As Lynn (Poe) showed me around the building and made introductions, I knew immediately this school was special. There’s just something in the air here.

“I know now what it was I sensed that first day but couldn’t quite put my finger on,” Blythe added. “It’s the culture. Cline has a culture based on relationships and trust. The staff members here have amazing relationships with each other and their students. Our motto in Campbell County is ‘Whatever It Takes,’ and the Cline family lives and works by that each day.”

Professional learning communities

Teachers at Cline Elementary agree that their professional learning communities (PLCs) are a big reason why the staff at the school has been able to form a tight-knit, cohesive bond.

“We make sure our PLC time is meaningful and purposeful,” Turner said “We are student-centered and strive to incorporate practices that are research-based. Each Monday we have a PLC by grade level where teachers may bring formative or summative assessments in to analyze, or it may be a meeting where we discuss a best practice by watching a video of teachers in the building modeling the best practice.”

Blythe said PLCs reinforce positive and open communication.

“When we get together in our PLCs, there is not just a commitment to work but there is also friendship,” Blythe said. “Anyone in this building would be more than willing to help their fellow staff members in any way they could. Have a doctor’s appointment, need someone to cover your class – done. Need help finding resources – got it. Trouble with a student – try this. Our staff is dedicated to hard work, success and building relationships, and I believe that trickles down to the students.”

Staff developer

Turner is in her second year as Cline Elementary’s staff developer. She previously taught 4th grade for four years and served as a grades 2-5 teacher at the now-closed Fourth Street Elementary School (Newport Independent).

Poe said the Campbell County district created the position in all its schools to assist with other district initiatives and to do whatever it takes for every student to experience classroom success.

“(Turner) works with (me) to support the teachers in implementation of best practices, curriculum, assessments, nurturing and supporting the faculty/staff with committee work,” Poe said. “We foster areas of growth for our school and students during our common planning time with the teachers.”

Turner, who said she enjoys her position because she learns new things every day, also is known for bringing excitement into a classroom.

“She is someone I know I can come to whenever I have a question or need help of any kind,” Blythe said. “She is an award-winning teacher and a mentor to all of us here at Cline. She will teach lessons, make presentations, work with small groups and model lessons for us.

“Myssi can really put on a show for the kids,” Blythe added. “She is known to come into the classroom dancing to music and getting all of the kids out of their seats. She really knows how to pump them up for a lesson.”

Collaboration with NKU

Cline Elementary and nearby Northern Kentucky University (NKU) have been collaborating for several years, and it has proven to be a winning combination for both schools.

“As a school leader, it is important to mentor future administrators and instructors who will proactively lead schools by nurturing positive relationships and modeling how to incorporate rigor and relevance providing a ‘guaranteed and viable’ curriculum,” Poe said. “We also accept foreign future administrators who attend NKU to model how the schools in the United States learn best practices, curriculum and assessment strategies to help their country’s schools succeed at high levels.

“NKU continues to support many professional development programs for our teachers to learn from,” Poe added. “We are always eager to assist the university in any way it desires. We have a wonderful, collaborative educational relationship with the instructional team and university staff.”

Cline Elementary recently had a Malaysian NKU student shadow Poe and Turner during his stay in the United States.

“He taught our students about his culture and brought in resources to share,” Turner said. “He also helped us locate a foreign exchange Chinese NKU student who volunteered to come to our school three days a week to translate for our Chinese-speaking student. The progress that student made after that was amazing.

“There is no one thing that makes our school a Blue Ribbon School,” Turner added. “It is the many great opportunities that we take advantage of and share.”

Blythe agreed.

“People are always asking Principal Poe what her secret is, but the truth is there is no secret,” Blythe said. “It’s culture, building relationships, dedication and hard work.”

Lynn Poe,, (859) 781-4544