Blue Ribbon school making the most of its diversity

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ESL teacher Betty Snyder plays a skills game with 1st-grade students Samir Salazae, Abdullah Bahanin and Yassen Mohamed at Glendover Elementary School (Fayette County). Samir speaks Spanish and Abdullah and Yassen speak Arabic. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 30, 2014
ESL teacher Betty Snyder plays a skills game with 1st-grade students Samir Salazae, Abdullah Bahanin and Yassen Mohamed at Glendover Elementary School (Fayette County). Samir speaks Spanish and Abdullah and Yassen speak Arabic.
Photo by Amy Wallot, May 30, 2014

By Susan Riddell

In recent years, Glendover Elementary School (Fayette County) has developed a strong reputation for meeting the needs of its diverse students, according to Principal Catherine Fine.

The school has embraced that diversity and currently welcomes students from 26 different countries.

“At Glendover we truly are a window to the world,” said Fine, who just finished her 11th year as the school’s principal.

Using a systemic approach to intervention targeting literacy, Glendover Elementary teachers and administrators have been focused on strategies to make learning for these students, many of whom are English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, more enriching and to improve achievement In doing so, all students have benefitted, Fine said, as these efforts have worked for multiple groups of students who tend to score lower on state and national assessments and are involved in the intervention process.

In 2011-12, Glendover Elementary was a School of Distinction with an accountability score in the 96th percentile. It also scored at least 20 percent higher than district and state averages in every subject in K-PREP testing measures. The designated Gap Group scored 21 percent higher than Fayette County school district test scores and 19 percent higher than the state average.

“I think our best approach is holding all students accountable to the same high expectations,” Fine said.

That approach is one of the key reasons Glendover Elementary was honored as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School. Fourth-grade teacher Lauren Rister said the school earned the Blue Ribbon honor because all students are making progress, not just the ones needing interventions.

Despite success in helping all students reach proficiency in reading and mathematics, student growth became a focal point of instruction when administrators looked at data that suggested that not all students were making the growth needed to meet state targets.

“They are all kids with learning to do,” Rister said. “Sometimes they will succeed, and sometimes they will fail. But if they fail, we keep encouraging and working with them until they find their measure of success.”

Many of the students included in intervention sessions are the school’s ESL learners. Located close to the University of Kentucky (UK), Glendover Elementary enrolls a high number of students who come from a host of foreign families that also have students attending UK.

“We celebrate the diverse backgrounds we serve,” Rister said. “We enroll children from around the world. Some are here long-term while others are here for just a year. Some have studied English before and others are not familiar with the alphabet or printed numbers.”

Rister said it’s crucial to develop relationships with these students quickly and efficiently.

“When any child falls into a gap, our biggest issue is discovering what exact need he or she has and finding programs that will match that need,” she said. “This is a continuing process open to new and innovative programs.”

Rister said the schools Response to Intervention and multi-tiered systems of support are constantly evolving.

“We continuously work to determine the most efficient and effective way to apply appropriate intervention,” Rister said. “We want our classroom instruction to be engaging so that very few of our students need intervention. We do have several support staff members who both pull out and push into classrooms to work with students. Their schedules are flexible to help meet needs as they change.

“In intermediate, all our students participate in a time of day where specific skills are either retaught or extended,” Rister added. “Both classroom teachers and support staff use a variety of strategies, programs and assessments.”

There is no one program that is used for all students, Rister said, noting that each child is unique. Intervention groups are based on current student need as opposed to long-term ability.

“What we don’t want to happen here is that a child would work with a support teacher for a year and not attain an ability growth goal,” Rister said. “If a child is not progressing, we do something else. We are constantly looking for additional options to ensure the appropriate outcome for each child.”

Teachers at the school have revamped how they monitor progress.

“Many kids regress over the summer, so one of our challenges this year is making up for summer regression,” Rister said. “We no longer look at progress from fall to spring. Instead, we monitor progress from spring to spring, which includes the summer when we do not work with the kids.”

Administrative support has been crucial to the school’s success according to teachers.

“Dr. Fine has valued and supported our ESL program since she became principal,” ESL teacher Betty Snyder said. “Her genuine concern and advocacy for these students, and the efforts she has made to support our program (materials, extra personnel, professional development opportunities for classroom teacher) have paid off with the success of our English language learners.”

The school has witnessed many successes with its ESL population that accounts for nearly 25 percent of its student body.

“Our ESL program is second to none,” Fine said. “Our teachers work with more than 30 languages. We look at this as a privilege, not a barrier.”

The teachers at Glendover Elementary have been able to use their invention work to refine practices as needed, and Fine is thrilled that they are constantly looking to improve.

“Teachers are being more intentional in their planning to make sure they use what they know about their students to design instruction that is engaging and provides them with opportunities to learn and communicate their learning in a variety of ways,” she said. “Teachers are more aware of where each child is performing, are differentiating more in their daily instruction to all students and are planning with student growth in mind.”

Being selected as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School was an affirmation of the great things happening daily at the school, Fine said.

“Excellence isn’t something that just happens,” Fine said. “It is earned by the hard work of our staff and through the partnerships we create with families and the community. All students can achieve at high levels, and the honor we received is evidence of this.”

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