PALMER — No calories were spared at a breakfast celebration of John Shaw Elementary School teachers, students and parents last week.
Mat-Su School District Superintendent Deena Paramo dished up pancakes, eggs and even some donuts Dec. 16 to help celebrate Shaw Elementary’s recent recognition as a Title I Distinguished School.
“We had to make it a big treat,” Paramo said afterward.
The award is kind of a big deal. Only two schools in the state are selected as Title I Distinguished Schools each year.
Shaw was recognized for having exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years and Alaska Native Charter School in Anchorage was recognized for “significantly closing the achievement gap between student groups,” according to a press release about the awards from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
Title I schools receive extra federal funding targeted at boosting achievement at schools in communities with high poverty rates. Paramo said the poverty rate is determined based on how many students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
“It’s odd that we have to mention that, but that’s exactly what Title I is. Certainly with the children, there’s no difference,” she said.
Shaw Principal Monica Goyette said about 20 percent of the students at her school are English language learners, meaning English is not their first language. Most are Russian and Ukrainian, she said. Shaw also hosts the district-wide school for the deaf and about 20 percent of Goyette’s charges are special education students.
Children ages 3 through fifth grade participate in the deaf education program, Paramo said. The high number of students with special needs makes the recognition for Shaw even more amazing, she said.
Goyette, in her first year as principal at Shaw, said she is really proud of the work Shaw supporters did to achieve the award.
“I am just so thrilled that the hard work of the staff and the students — and the parents — is being recognized,” she said. “We really had a large district-wide initiative to improve curriculum instruction and assessments, and I think this is evidence of the achievements we’ve made district-wide.”
special help and continuity help school reach goals
At Shaw, Title I federal funding pays for a half-time tutor who assists students who need to be challenged academically and also intervenes for students who are at risk of falling behind. A team of parent volunteers works to provide daily reading time with students. For English learners, Paramo said, that extra reading time is important.
“When they haven’t heard English all the time, it’s really the assistance of those helpers (that is important), allowing them to hear stories, that candor and repetition,” Paramo said.
For students from lower-income families, reading assistance can also be vital, she said.
“Often, high-poverty parents are working full-time and might not have as much time to spend with their children,” Paramo said.
On top of that, Goyette said Shaw teachers “loop,” meaning students have the same teacher for two years and just three teachers during their time at Shaw, instead of a new teacher and new classroom of students each year. Looping supporters say the practice helps cement the student-teacher bond and promotes development.
Big honor for a big school
Mat-Su has received the Distinguished School award once before in recent history; Glacier View School received it about four years ago, Paramo said.
Not to diminish the significance of that achievement, she said, but Glacier View generally has fewer than 50 students over 12 grades.
Shaw has nearly 400 students, which can make it difficult to improve test scores across the board.
The award Shaw Elementary received is based on student achievement. According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, schools apply to be recognized for the award.
To apply, the school must rank in the top 10 percent of Title I schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress for the two previous school years. It must also have maintained or grown in the percent of students declared proficient or advanced for language arts or math and have not declined more than 3 percent in any other subject.
Paramo said more than half of the schools in the Mat-Su Borough School District are Title I schools, meaning 45 percent or more of the students there qualify for free and reduced lunches. The district strives to make each school high achieving, she said.
“Our goal here is that it doesn’t matter the neighborhood you were born in, the family you were born in. Everyone deserves a high-quality education,” she said.