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Schools Work To Gain Accreditation

Riverside Elementary School focuses on reading.

One point. That’s all that kept Riverside Elementary from achieving full accreditation this year. Their cumulative English SOL score was 74 and the pass rate was 75. In all other categories, Riverside either met or exceeded the posted scores. However, because they missed the English benchmark by one point, they are one of four schools in Cluster IV to be listed as “accredited with warning.”

All of these schools were accredited last year, but the criteria changed significantly this year. A letter sent out by Superintendent Jack Dale and Kitty Porterfield, director of communications, reads, “Although the number of schools accredited with warning has increased from two last year to six this year it is due to a change in definitions and criteria for warning rather than to decreased achievement in these schools. To be accredited with warning in previous years, a school had to be below the accreditation pass rates by at least 20 percentage points. This year, to be accredited with warning means that a school may be only one percentage point below the accreditation pass rate.”

Such was the case with Riverside. As part of the process, Riverside will undergo an academic review and will be required to adopt and implement improvement plans.

IN THE MEANTIME, Riverside is forging ahead. Lori Morton, principal at Riverside, is working to make sure that they meet all their goals next year.

A letter from Morton included in the November newsletter read: “While we are disappointed that we just missed the benchmark, we are pleased with the increase in student achievement in English. The percentage of third and fifth-grade students passing the English benchmark increased from 68 percent to 74 percent. We are also pleased with the gains made in math, history and science. Our staff is analyzing the test results and does regularly assess students to determine their strengths and areas needing improvement. Teachers make instructional decisions based on these regular assessments.”

Most of the programs and activities that they’re working on are not new; they are part of a school-wide vision that has carried Riverside Elementary for years. That vision states that they are “developing students who are ‘self-reliant, responsible citizens who recognize their potential, engage in lifelong learning, and contribute effectively in a global community.’ This vision is supported by a mission, ‘to nurture a safe and supportive learning environment that promotes high academic and social achievement for all students.’ We will increase student achievement by keeping current in best instructional practices, meet the needs of all learners through meaningful instruction based on ongoing assessment, and work collaboratively with parents to provide multiple strategies that support student learning.”

“Riverside is a school that’s doing fabulously,” Morton said. “We have phenomenal parents, teachers and students. We focus on all the students. What we’re working for is full accreditation.”

THE TEACHERS AT RIVERSIDE sound positive about the programs they’re working on.

“We balance literacy with highly supported teaching. We have independent study, mini-lessons, group lessons, individual reading and guided reading,” said Allison DeBruin, reading specialist. “There are opportunities for students to meet with their teachers and develop learning strategies.”

“We focus on higher thinking skills,” said Lisa Felder, reading specialist. “The teacher assesses the needs and determines the course of study.”

DeBruin said that they build on students’ strengths and needs and offer different teaching levels. Some students who read on a lower level meet more frequently, while teachers work with accelerated readers on accelerated activities.

Morton said, “We look at each student as a learner; we don’t want to teach to the low end.”

Mary Person, assistant principal, said that another way to foster reading is through book clubs. Students select a book and meet to read and discuss it.

Reading is an integral component of Math, and Dawn Hendricks, math teacher, said, “We teach how to read problems and how to read visuals. What’s unique [at Riverside] is that we give the Testpak — practice SOL tests — to the students in the fall before the concepts are even taught. The kids look and see how they do and gain self-confidence.”

Henricks said that the test is given again in March and they see tremendous improvement.

The results of the Testpak allow the teachers to help the students and focus their lessons to help with the SOL.

“Our teachers are really good with understanding the analysis,” Person said. “We have a lot of resources to know and understand what’s essential.”

MORTON SAID THAT THEY try to make learning meaningful and relate lessons to life experiences. One of the things that she likes to focus on is the interaction with parents. Two programs, one called Program in Print for K-2, and another titled Read to Achieve for grades 3-6, brings parents and students together 4-5 times a year to teach parents reading and writing strategies to work with their children at home.

Riverside also sponsored a workshop recently at Sherwood Hall Library where the upper grade students came together to do some hands-on learning; several of them also registered for library cards.

Because 25 percent of the Riverside population is ESOL, they have three ESOL specialists on staff and are a Project Excel school. Most of the correspondence that is sent home is translated and translators are on hand for meetings with ESOL parents.

Most of the meetings have a pretty large turnout. Hendricks said that the family math night that they had last year attracted 400 people. She said that they focused on certain strands and made take-home math games. Later in the year, Riverside will hold an International Night. They will also work on a project called “Blacks in Wax” where students research prominent African American persons and become their wax image. Morton said that’s part of the Virginia History curriculum.

“Our teachers are learners and they stay current with the best instructional practices — conferences, discussion and talking. We focus on professional development,” Morton said.