This article is the third part in a series of four articles focusing on the programs that several schools are undertaking to improve their scores.
Months before the Virginia Standards of Learning scores were announced, James Dallas, principal of Hybla Valley Elementary School, was working on programs to improve the scores. When he received the news that his school was “accredited with warning,” he was disappointed, but said, “I’m concerned, but I look upon it as a growth opportunity. We’re already headed in the right direction. We have a strong leadership team and I look at it for what it is and learn from it.”
As part of the process, Hybla Valley will undergo an academic review and will be required to adopt and implement improvement plans.
“I don’t know what will happen since [officials] haven’t come yet,” Dallas said. He does feel that he’s on the right track.
“Some of the things we’ve been doing all along. We all realize that the most effective factor is good instruction,” he said.
To help students who are struggling, Hybla Valley offers remedial instruction twice a week for two hours. Dallas said that they identify students who need an extra push or are on the cusp. Hybla Valley missed both the English and the science benchmarks; the latter by 10 points. As a result, they are now teaching science across the curriculum. For example, they are using science books for guided reading.
PARENTS APPRECIATE the effort.
“I love him [James Dallas] to death, he is so helpful and listens to you,” said Ginny Thorpe, mother and PTSA member. “He works with you and would do anything for the kids. He has a wonderful staff.”
Thorpe said that her son, Marcus, takes advantage of the computer classes that are offered at the school. The classes are a component of the Computer Learning Centers Partnership, a cooperative effort run by the Fairfax County of Partnerships that was recently instituted at Hybla Valley. It allows students access to computers and county staff during the week and on Saturdays. It is staffed with county employees who help students with the computer. Thorpe said that her son goes to the classes once during the week and on Saturdays. Thorpe hasn’t heard that parents are worried about the SOL scores and seem to like the programs at Hybla Valley. They are trying to get more parents involved. After-school help with homework has proven to be very valuable for students and parents, she said.
This week they changed their PTA designation to a PTSA to allow students to become move involved. Five students have been elected to represent the student body
“We’re trying to get ideas from students to see what they would like to have. We want kids to help decide what to do,” Thorpe said. One of the things that they’ve already suggested is the installation of a school garden.
STUDENTS WHO NEED HELP with reading are also identified and take advantage of Reading Recovery, a program where struggling readers meet with a specialist every day for 30 minutes. Benhur Cantubay-DeLeon is one of those students; he meets daily with Betty Lemen, who serves as both a first-grade teacher and a reading specialist. This past week, they were reading “Ben’s Dad.” Lemen said, “Benhur loves this book because this series has a boy with a name like him.”
Dallas realizes that children are learning all the time. Just as the idea of a thermometer is first introduced in kindergarten, many concepts are developed throughout the course of a child’s education. The concept is called "Vertical Articulation" and refers to the direction of the curriculum between levels of school. Successful articulation from elementary to secondary programs requires a consistent reinforcement of concepts.
“One of the things we’ve found is that the third and fifth-grade teachers are not solely responsible for preparing the students for SOLs, but recognize that it’s a community effort.”
The team approach is also used within the grades themselves. Dallas says that the bi-monthly meetings each team of teachers have is invaluable. They meet with the appropriate specialists and look at student’s work and discuss what’s working and what the next step is.
“The focus is all student driven,” Dallas says. “The question we have to ask about each child is: What do we want them to learn? How will know if they’ve learned it? And how will we respond if they haven’t learned?”
Last week, the five second-grade teachers met with Leslie Fields, ESOL teacher, and Edgar Lescano, Special Education teacher. They looked at samples of various students and assessed their progress. One child who was being discussed had improved dramatically in a short amount of time, and as his teacher, Michelle Louder, showed his most recent work, she said, “I was so excited when he wrote this. I hope he’s going to keep going.”
Another teacher looked at the work and said, “He’s really coming through with emotion.”
Because of the large number of parents who don’t speak English, Dallas said that they have a big outreach program. They also translate everything that they send home.
“Parents are a children’s first teachers,” Dallas said.