By Susan Riddell
David Ward believes that on his last day as the principal of Auburn Elementary School (Logan County), he could easily slip out the front door unnoticed.
“Whenever that day is, this school won’t drop off a single bit,” said Ward, who is in his 10th year as the school’s principal. “All I’ve done is hire great – not good, but great – teachers. With their dedication to this school and these students, there’s no doubt in my mind that the day I leave, no one will miss me, because my teachers and staff are that good.”
Auburn Elementary teachers are much more concerned about the students who leave the school. What makes them highly effective, Ward said, is their focus on Auburn Elementary students being college- and career-ready (CCR).
That focus on college- and career-readiness is one of the many reasons Auburn Elementary was recently named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School.
“Kentucky’s Blue Ribbon schools are leading the way in preparing students to be college/career-ready,” Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said when the five Kentucky Blue Ribbon schools were named. “Every child deserves a world class education, and these schools are models for those in the rest of the state where students are not yet achieving or improving at such a high level.”
Auburn Elementary’s college- and career-efforts are varied and in-depth, teachers said.
“We use every opportunity to bring in the discussion of different careers in all grades,” guidance counselor Rhonda Powell said. “We understand the importance of not only educating our students to prepare them for a successful future, but we also feel it to be as important in helping them be knowledgeable of the higher education opportunities and career opportunities that are available to them.”
Sarah Jennings, an 8th grade mathematics teacher, said the Leader in Me curriculum is embedded into a daily routine at Auburn Elementary, and this further helps students meet college- and career-readiness standards.
“It prepares them for the most beneficial future in educational excellence,” Jennings said. “It also provides the students with a head start. Instead of learning just content, they are learning skills they can use for an actual career one day.”
Jennings added that teachers routinely collaborate on CCR efforts. In 8th grade language arts, teachers use research from student individual learning plans (ILP) to write career plans. Later in their classes, they use the plans and research how they connect to their other content areas.
Kimberly Cron, a 7th grade mathematics and language arts teacher, loves her school’s “proactive” approach to CCR.
“I am currently working with other literacy teachers in developing a staff training on how to incorporate informative text comprehension strategies in the everyday classroom,” Cron said. “We are very adamant about Response to Intervention (RTI) and identifying students who may not be on track for proficiency and work with them one-on-one to improve their comprehension of the subject.
“We also do EXPLORE ‘scrimmages’ at the 6th and 7th grade levels to see where any gaps in learning may occur so that we have time to fill those gaps before the students reach 8th grade,” Cron added.
Those EXPLORE scrimmages Cron mentioned are mock EXPLORE tests with the same parameters as the required 8th-grade test.
“Our enrichments, our RTI, whatever it is, we’re student-centered, and the focus is on the kids getting college- and career-ready,” Ward said.
“At the elementary level,” Cron added, “students begin to develop attitudes about their future. If students have an attitude of just getting by, then that is what they will do as an adult. However, our elementary teachers do a marvelous job of instilling the attitude that ‘I have to do my best at an early age.’ Reward systems are in place to encourage good decisions. Students believe they can be successful at early ages, and this will hopefully translate to success as adults.”
Powell said that while staff members are focused and intentional in their CCR efforts, they make sure students have an active role in the process, too.
“I often ask students, ‘Are you just going to let life happen or are you going to make life happen,’” Powell said. “We want them to understand that the choices they make today have a profound effect on what happens later in their lives.”
When asked what’s next for Logan County school district’s largest elementary school, Ward said it’s important that his school finds ways to improve.
“I’d love to say we’ll have another Blue Ribbon award in five years,” he said. “That’s pretty rare. The key is continued growth in all practices. No matter what we have going on at Auburn Elementary, no matter what background our students have, the expectations here are high for everyone. It comes down to the people here; no magic programs.
“And we know every school is different, and we have to embrace change,” Ward added. “We’re constantly looking at assessment and other ways that we can be dynamic.”