Not so long ago, Evergreen Elementary School was having a problem. The students weren’t doing so great in the subject of reading. These days they are doing so great they’ve been awarded what is called a Title 1 Distinguished School Award. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction gives this award to one school in the state, said principal Jacque Crisman.

Bailey Lalonde reads at a table with a few classmates and teacher Kathy Martin during the reading room time. Each student gets 90 minutes of reading instruction every day at Evergreen Elementary School. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

With tears in her eyes, Crisman walked through the reading room that houses thousands of book titles in sets of six, so that children can read and discuss the same book.

“Nine years ago, I wouldn’t have envisioned this,” she said. “The way the staff worked together to get to this point is phenomenal.”

Crisman gushes with pride, and can’t seem to find enough words to express her enthusiasm as she says, “I wish you could feel what I’m feeling inside.”

By achieving such a distinction, the school will get a monetary award of $5,000. This money will be used to implement a program to close the gap in math scores, she said. The teachers and staff hope to replicate what they have done in the reading program.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the latest assessments and a lot of time looking at student data and making good choices based on what we know about our students,” Crisman said.

The staff also looked at funding in a different way, she said. They used the Title 1 and General Education Funds to meet the needs of as many students as possible, and because Evergreen is a Title 1 school, she said the scope of the efforts could be expanded.

Though the teachers and students are the ones who really won the award due to such hard work and dedication to the effort, Crisman said the community is an important part of the school’s success.

“There are so many pieces of this whole puzzle,” she said. “Communities in Schools, Children’s Home Society, the YMCA, they all play a part and Angel Guild, Longbranch Improvement Club, these people have really rallied in order to be able to help us with our funding.”

Two individuals provided enough money to build a reading and book room, she said.

Jeff Bailey and Lynn Larson made it possible for the school to have thousands of titles and sets of six so that many children can read a book at the same time.

“If not for them, we would not get this award,” Crisman said.

The room allows the teachers to do the work needed to give each student a chance for reading success, and each day the students spend 90 minutes of reading instruction. Four days a week each child gets instruction for 25 minutes at his or her level, she said.

“This is a model that we read an article about a long time ago and we thought we could never do it, but we did it for every child in our building,” she said.  “We had groups of teachers looking at data and students and what they need to learn. We were able to place groups accordingly instead of cluster with a teacher in front and everyone get the same lesson.”

It sounds unconventional, and it is, and this leads to questions.

“Most people who walk into our reading room are amazed how we get the kids to do it,” she said, “how we get so many people to do it, how to schedule it, how do you fund it, get the books, and get so many people involved.”

And it’s working. Instead of looking at scores of a particular grade for several years in a row, which would give scores of different students each year, Crisman said they have looked at scores in a more longitudinal way. They follow the individual student to track progress.

“It showed each year we could get more kids meeting (the reading) standard,” she said, “and we could show a story of children and how the children move through. If we look at the apples all the way through, and the oranges all the way through, makes sense and you can see the progress.”

Getting to this point has been a commitment on the part of everyone at the school, she said.

“We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” said Meredith Browand, instructional coach.  She meets with teachers to discuss planning and ways to improve instruction. “I’m so focused on the needs of the students and invested in their success, and I don’t have any of them in my class.”

The Office of Public Instruction also looked at how Evergreen was using the Title 1 funding.

“They also wanted to know what the strategies were in order to move kids along, and we talked about the reading room, our before and after school and summer school and reading blocks, and a lot about how the teachers work together in teams and collaborated over data in order to make instructional decisions for our kids,” Crisman said.

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