The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 7, 2012

St. James school set to follow new plan

ST. JAMES — Under the new state education accountability system, underperforming schools are required to submit a plan of action to the Department of Education.

Called School Improvement Plans, the state’s Priority schools (bottom 5 percent of Title I schools) and Focus schools (those with an extreme achievement gap) must devise an “organized, focused, inclusive and public way to plan improvement for student benefit.”

Those plans are being officially released soon by the Department of Education, and as a Priority School, St. James Northside Elementary School’s plan is among them.

In the 36-page document, compiled by Northside Principal Karla Beck, the school’s needs for specific interventions are laid out, as are the plans in place to meet those needs. Beck said a focus on reading is at the heart of the school’s improvement philosophy.

“Reading standards, they are linked to history, science, technology and social studies,” Beck said. “The standards almost mandate that you merge the language acquisition in with the acquisition of other subjects.”

Basically, she said, students who can read well can comprehend material in a variety of other subjects. The district is piloting programs called The Daily Five and Reading Cafe and plans to make the materials available to all teachers with full implementation in 2013-14.

Reading Cafe curriculum takes an academic approach to reading comprehension. The Daily Five is centered around five reading components, including reading to yourself, writing, reading to someone else, reflection, and spelling and word work.

“Even the kindergarten teachers are pulling tiny bits and pieces of it,” Beck said.

Simultaneously, the school is working on math standards, Beck said, as the school’s Multiple Measurements Rating indicated a need for improvement in math as well. The school’s total MMR score was 25.79 percent. (Generally, a higher percentage indicates achievement and growth.)

To aid in meeting students’ needs, the school received a federal School Improvement Grant for $445,000 to go toward staff and other resources to help close the achievement gap. The grant paid for the hiring of an assistant principal at Northside, a full-time reading specialist, a half-time math interventionist, a full-time data instructional coach and a full-time family liaison.

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