Student success in Sheridan: Elementary school rallies at news of greater growth scores, higher school rating

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Low student test scores can cause some communities to call for mass teacher dismissals, school restructure or even a building’s closure.  The community of Sheridan, Colo. chose to trust the team in place to pull together and help students achieve better results.

“Today we are here to celebrate progress, significant progress forward.  We are growing, we are aiming higher,” said Dr. Michael Clough, superintendent of Sheridan School District No. 2, in his speech at a community event that packed hundreds of elementary school students, parents, teachers and administrators into the bleachers of the middle school athletic field, Sep. 14.

“With the growth over the past two years, I am so pleased to announce today that Sheridan Elementary School is no longer a ‘turnaround’ school,” said Clough, referencing Colorado’s lowest ranking the school received just two years ago.

“In fact, our growth has been so strong that we skipped over ‘priority improvement’ and we have catapulted all the way to ‘improvement’,” Clough proclaimed to sustained cheers of students wearing “Here We Grow” t-shirts.  ‘Improvement’ is Colorado’s second-highest rating for schools.

The fifth-grade class came off the bleachers (picture above) to join Clough on the track and present a visual, by-the-numbers display of much they grew in state testing from 2010 to 2012:  reading scores raised from the 42nd growth percentile to the 55th percentile, writing growth up from 37th to 50th percentiles, and most dramatically, growth in math shooting from the 27th to the 48th percentile.

“It’s tough work to do what you did,” said Robert Hammond, the commissioner of the Colorado Department of Education, who came to the community southwest of Denver to speak at the event.  “To see the growth that you’ve done is amazing.  You should feel proud.”

Hammond also pointed to his pride in Sheridan teachers.

“Sometimes teachers don’t get as much positive feedback as they could.  I’m here to tell you it has taken a lot of incredible energy on their part,” said Hammond.  “We’re really proud of you as teachers at the Colorado Department of Education for what you have helped accomplish in this school district.”

“Without a doubt, the tremendous growth of our students would not have happened without the talent, dedication and commitment of the entire Sheridan Elementary staff of teachers and professionals,” Clough agreed.  “I could not ask for a finer group of people to work with, so from the bottom of my heart, please accept my thanks for a job well done.”

Linda Barker, director of teaching and learning at the Colorado Education Association, brought the collaboration point home for students by relating how Winnie the Pooh and his friends always solve problems and meet challenges when they organize.

“Organized means everyone has to be involved – teachers, parents, school board members and superintendents – everybody on our team makes a difference,” said Barker, who left the school large Winnie the Pooh and Tigger stuffed toys to remind them to always pull together.

After the ceremony, Joni Rummell, president of the Sheridan Educators Association, said her educators and the administration made a commitment in the turnaround process to work together in the best interest of students.

“Early on, it was a little rocky, but both sides recognized that to truly push forward, it has to be a partnership.  We’ve been really fortunate to have two teams that are willing to be on the same team.

“Our teachers have endured a lot.  Turnaround is difficult.  It’s a hard process on everyone,” Rummell added.  “But they’ve endured, worked hard, communicated and just stuck with it even though it’s a difficult process.  So I’m very proud of our teachers in Sheridan, they’re amazing.”

Danita Myers, a fourth grade teacher at Fort Logan Elementary (one of two Sheridan Elementary campuses), said new teacher training, spurred by a $2.3 million federal school improvement grant, was vital to teacher and student success.

“I’ve been in this district for a long time, and we’ve been hard-working and dedicated teachers,” said Myers.  “But we’ve had some fantastic professional development and to see that pay off with the kids, and to see that the kids have made so much improvement – this is a great celebration of all of that.”

The celebration was local, but word of Sheridan success reached beyond Colorado.  Deb Delisle, undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education, spoke at the event to pass her congratulations from President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  While the test scores were cause for celebration, she cautioned public education isn’t just a numbers game.

“Know that behind every single number, behind every piece of data, is the heart and soul of a child who yearns to succeed,” said Delisle.  “So when you’re thinking about those numbers… trying to figure out how to get even better results for kids, remember the faces of the kids sitting here today.  They’re counting on us as adults to make the right decisions for them.”

“We look at each kid and what each kid needs,” Myers agreed.  “The data isn’t some big number that is nebulous out there anymore.  It’s actually representing each of our kids.”

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