Key Peninsula Middle School seventh graders were the top scorers in Peninsula School District on the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) test in math last year. At KPMS, 62 percent of seventh graders met the standard, while the district average was 58 percent.

“This exceeded our expectations,” said KPMS Principal Jeri Goebel, who is thrilled with how her students are doing academically.

KPMS students often have more hurdles to clear than the other middle schools in the district —52 percent of the nearly 400 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is more than double the poverty rate of the other middle schools in the district.

Despite those hurdles, the school has shown steady academic improvement each year. It went from underperforming when compared to middle schools across the state to consistently doing better across all grades in both the language arts and math assessments.

The SBA was used for the first time in 2015, and Goebel notes that in addition to grade-specific scores improving overall each year, individual students have improved as they moved to the next year.

“We are always making them better, and not every school can say that,” she said.

Goebel has been the principal at KPMS for nine years. She credits students’ success to many factors.

First, the school environment has focused on positivity for 10 years, participating in the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program. It uses a proactive approach to establish the behavioral supports and social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success.

“If our students are in a good place emotionally, they are better able to learn and the staff is in a better environment to teach,” Goebel said.

In addition, for the last three years, the staff has been working with the Tacoma Development Group to use its curriculum strategies, especially in math. The strategies focus on critical thinking, not just memory testing, Goebel explained.

Another important factor is the collaboration time the staff has each Wednesday. School starts an hour later than usual and teachers sit down together and look at data, drilling down to discover at a basic level what concepts the students are struggling to master. And then they can look at instructional strategies to teach those concepts.

Goebel credits her “amazing teaching staff” with being ready to build on the school’s success.

“I’d pit my staff against that of any school in the state,” she said.

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