Emily Iliff, the assistant-principal of Norton Elementary (Jefferson County), says that part of what makes her school so successful is the family atmosphere that exists inside the schoolhouse walls.
Norton recently was named a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
“It really is like a family here,” said Iliff, who has been on staff for six years. “We have an incredible staff that go above and beyond. They really work to reach the kids at their level. We support each other when times are good and times are bad. I would trust the teachers here to do whatever needs to be done for our kids.”
Iliff proves this feeling of closeness as she walks through the halls naming children as she walks from class to class, never making a mistake in this school of 735 students.
Even though Norton was named as a Blue Ribbon School, Iliff said the teachers and staff will continue to keep pushing themselves to do better every day. The school’s motto is: “Norton Elementary, where all children learn at high levels. No Exceptions. No Excuses.”
“Our teachers are so good at their job already, but I think that we need to keep pushing that envelope and pushing that boundary,” said Iliff. “Our scores are good, but we need to try. We need to keep finding things to continue to improve on and achieve.”
Norton’s Blue Ribbon application says the school attempts to create well-rounded students by putting as much attention on its non-core subjects as its core curriculum. Each non-core subject is taught by a teacher that is certified in that area of education.
Such is the case with Norton’s music class, taught by Diane Downs. Outside of her Norton classroom, Downs is the founder and leader of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists, a group of young musicians that was greeted with international recognition after their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir went viral; earning Downs an interview with the BBC in 2015.
Downs said students in her music class at Norton are expected to practice and understand their music as much as any of the children in her percussionist group.
“It’s all about getting the kids involved and keeping their attention,” said Downs. “Some classes are harder to corral than others, but that’s just part of it. You have to get them to buckle down and learn.”
Special area teachers also collaborate with classroom teachers as a way to integrate core classes into their instruction. Downs reinforces reading concepts through singing and mathematical concepts through demonstrating the different rhythms used in playing an instrument.
While in physical education classes, students use dance to illustrate different cultures.
“It’s all about pushing those boundaries to make ourselves better,” said Iliff.
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