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12/15/2011 7:56:00 AM
Superintendent's Update #353
Superintendent's Update

Superintendent Castillo's updates showcase the efforts and achievements of Oregon schools. Through these regular messages, the Superintendent hopes to increase communications regarding important initiatives for Oregon's students. Click here to access archived issues of Superintendent’s Update.

In This Issue:
  • Closing the Achievement Gap: Spotlight on Weddle Elementary
  • Oregon K-12 Literacy Framework: Self Assessments Provide Value to Educators and Students
  • Oregon Diploma Talk
  • Opportunities and Financial Resources for Students and Schools
  • Susan’s Schedule

Closing the Achievement Gap: Spotlight on Weddle Elementary
By Susan Castillo

This feature highlights high poverty and/or minority schools recognized in 2011 for their progress in closing the academic achievement gap.

Everything Weddle Elementary teachers need to know is contained in binders they keep handy in their desk drawers. These “data books” are bulging with information about each and every student – their strengths and weaknesses, their academic growth and goals. The binders are not mere grading books but working documents created so that teachers can use student data to design targeted interventions and create strategic groupings of students. “The data book is huge,” says Principal Samantha Ragaisis. “It really becomes the teacher’s bible for what direction they’re going to take each child.”

That seriousness of purpose is part of the culture at Weddle, where teachers pride themselves on getting rid of “fluff” in the curriculum and focusing on achievement. “In my classroom, I think of the academic purpose of every activity and if there isn’t a good reason to do it, I don’t do it,” says Stephanie Makjavich, a 2nd grade teacher. Ragaisis says a trip several years ago to visit a successful school in Kennewick, Washington, helped galvanize the staff, who realized excellence was within reach despite the challenges faced by their students (8 out of 10 are economically disadvantaged). The Weddle staff raised the bar for themselves and their students.
“We realized we needed to be academically focused if we were going to get these kids into college,” Ragaisis says. “I’m not a fluff person. We don’t have time to color pictures of George Washington... These kids need real skills.”

The zero-fluff approach doesn’t mean the school isn’t fun. Weddle is big on positive reinforcement, such as ice cream parties for perfect attendance and special dog tags students wear when they do well on the state assessment. The school has a mascot called Wolfie – a costumed character that comes out on Fridays to interact with kids. “We give every kind of reward we can to these kids,” says Ragaisis. “We do as much as we can to let them know what they’re doing makes a difference.”

At Weddle, more than a third of students are English Language Learners (ELL). The school is structured into two “strands” – Spanish literacy for native Spanish-speakers, and English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL). Nearly all teachers are ESOL-endorsed. In the Spanish strand, students learn both English and Spanish, “and they’re taught to draw upon what they know in one language to strengthen the other,” says Makjavich, who teaches in the bilingual program. “I really see that boosting my students’ achievement.” A district literacy model has been a hit, providing a strong core structure, but allowing teachers flexibility.

“It’s a model that allows for creativity,” says Jenny Maguire, the instructional coach. Weddle'“The teachers are given a concept or a skill to teach and can use any number of resources or books. We’re not tied to a curriculum where we’re going page by page, but rather creating curriculum that meets the needs of students... There’s always a standard that needs to be met, but you can teach it through any number of means.”

Despite being organized into separate strands, the staff is unified, working together in professional learning communities. An instructional coach provides opportunities for teachers to share ideas and collaborate to improve their instructional practices.“We talk about how our students are performing - pull in our test scores, and the things we’re doing to help the students succeed where they’re having difficulty,” says 4th grade teacher Kristen Sime. Recently, for example, the 4th grade team has focused on improving student writing, meeting weekly to pore over assessment strands that show how students are doing on specific skills, such as sentence fluency or conventions. “We’re able to brainstorm as a team, and having that support makes a huge difference,” Sime says.

The school prides itself on knowing students. The school teaches “Life skills” – 17 values such as integrity, perseverance, and courage. Starting this school year, students in grades 3-5 are “buddied up” with faculty or staff mentors.“We wanted to connect with students beyond the classroom,” says Maguire. “We really try to teach students that who they are on the inside matters as much as their academics. Our students feel valued as people and not just lost in the shuffle.”

Click here to learn more about Weddle Elementary and other schools closing the achievement gap. Also on the website are inspiring short videos of our Closing the Achievement Gap schools. Visit the site to learn more about each school’s story!

Oregon K-12 Literacy Framework: Self Assessments Provide Value to Educators and Students
By Susan Castillo

Literacy is a really big deal in the David Douglas School District. With large numbers of students in poverty and a sizable English Language Learner population, the district is very focused on addressing the academic achievement gap and providing students the strong foundation in literacy they will need to succeed academically in meeting the Common Core State Standards. But district administrators know that it will take more than early attention to literacy building blocks to close the achievement gap—it will take a holistic, comprehensive focus on literacy at all grades and in all subjects to really get student reading skills where they need to be.

In order to support the district on this new approach to literacy, administrators introduced the Oregon K-12 Literacy Framework last year. The purpose of the Framework is to ensure students are reading at grade-level or above by the end of first grade, developing grade-level reading skills across all classes, and receiving intensified instruction to help them read at grade level if they are not. The researched-based Framework follows the Response to Intervention (RTI) model and was developed by the Literacy Leadership State Steering Committee to support school, district, and state-level literacy work in Oregon. The Framework was adopted by the State Board of Education in December 2009 and provides a roadmap for the state, district, and school collaboration on literacy instruction and best practice.
David Douglas Superintendent Don Grotting has been involved in the Literacy Framework since its early development and served on the Literacy Leadership State Steering Committee. When he moved into the district last year, he started sharing the Framework’s resources with his administrators and teachers. “Our reading scores are not up to the level we want them to be, especially at the middle and high school level,” Grotting said. “I wanted to make sure we had a blueprint that would guide us through the process.”

While the district has a strong history of literacy at the lower grades, thinking of literacy as a K-12 focus and responsibility was something new. The Framework encouraged teachers and administrators to look at literacy—and literacy instruction—in new ways. “The Framework breaks down barriers of what people think reading instruction should be,” said district curriculum director Brooke O’Neill. “It really helps people understand the big picture.”

The big picture includes a shared focus on, and responsibility for, reading instruction across the grades and the subject areas. Under the K-12 Literacy Framework, reading and literacy skills are woven into instruction across the grades and disciplines—truly making every teacher a reading teacher. “The Framework has done a lot of the footwork and research, indicated where priorities should be, and who should be responsible for implementation at different levels,” said Grotting. “Staff really understand that it is coming from best practices research and they respond to that.”

The idea with the Framework is that it should be integrated into a school and district’s pre-existing improvement process. The Framework requires clear goal-setting and provides School MS-Word, District MS-Word, and State PDF Self-Assessment tools to help staff at all levels understand where they are on their path toward their literacy goals and what they can do to help move the work forward. “The Framework self-assessments cause us to evaluate what we have at a building level and look at what is really taking place in the classroom,” said Grotting. “It made us realize that our district currently has some big differences from school to school, classroom to classroom. And these are differences we might not have been aware of without this self-audit.”

“It really ties in beautifully to the school improvement process,” said O’Neill. “It is a great professional development tool for administrators. Do we, as instructional leaders, really understand where we are, what we are doing well, and what pieces might not be in place yet? It can really help bring a lot of awareness. And this assessment is not a ‘one and done,’ but something we will use annually. Hopefully we will see growth from year to year. It really reaffirms what you need to reach your goals.”

One element that is central to successful implementation of the Literacy Framework is time for staff collaboration and professional development. Staff meet in teams, or Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), to review student data, align strategies, and make plans for instructional changes. In David Douglas, the school district has a delayed start each Wednesday which provides staff an hour to sharply focus on where students are at, what the data is telling them, and what it will take to move students to the next level. In a time of shrinking budgets, taking on something new like the Framework RTI model and figuring out how to use available funding to begin implementing is challenging. However, David Douglas has found the organization and structure of the Framework makes it possible to phase in implementation gradually as time and resources allow.
“You have to give yourself permission to start small,” said O’Neill. “Implement in sections, do a self-audit and see where you are. We have found ways to support this work using some Title I dollars and really focusing in on our biggest needs. But there are so many things you can do that don’t cost money—reading groups, writing grade-specific goals, literacy teams at every school, looking at your instructional blocks—things you can get started on right away. And there are so many resources on the website. There’s a lot there to support districts in using these tools.”

But while much of the Framework can be implemented with existing resources, some elements do require additional funds. David Douglas has used some of their Title I and school improvement dollars to support this work, though it is always a challenge to find the funds for enough reading coaches, new instructional materials, and additional staff planning time. But the Framework has helped to guide not only instructional decisions but also budget decisions.

“At some point this work will really call on districts to be courageous,” said Grotting. “If these kids don’t have the essential reading skills they need, they will not be successful in anything else. It just takes making it a top priority and reallocating resources to get the work done.”

While they are only in their second year using the Framework, the district has already seen positive outcomes. There is an increased focus on literacy across the grades, teachers are working together more collaboratively, and reading scores are up—at every grade level. The percent of high school students meeting standard increased more than 20%! “Now what we would really love is to have one of these for math,” said O’Neill.

Learn more about the Oregon K-12 Literacy Framework and the school and district self-assessments online at: http://www.ode.state.or.us/go/literacyframework.

Oregon Diploma Talk
This item highlights key topics relating to the Oregon diploma and the Common Core State Standards.

Want to share information about the Common Core with Spanish speaking parents in your communities? Check out the following links for Spanish language Common Core documents. Translations of the standards for ELA & Literacy and Mathematics are under development by CCSSO and will be posted as soon as they are available.

Opportunities and Financial Resources for Students and Schools

Proposals for Career Education Grants Now Being Accepted
ODE is now accepting Request for Proposals (RFPs) from schools and districts wishing to develop or expand career and technical education programs in Oregon middle and high schools. Earlier this year, the Oregon legislature dedicated $2 million to revitalizing CTE programs in Oregon schools, building opportunities for students to access high-wage, high-demand jobs much earlier in their careers. Links to the RFP, contact information for assistance, and additional resources regarding the grant fund are all available at http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=3389. Proposals must be received by 5pm on February 10, 2012.

Teacher Exchange Programs
ODE facilitates the following teacher exchange programs:
• The Visiting Teacher Exchange Program (VTEP):VTEP is a year-long exchange of teachers from Spain, China, Japan, and Mexico available to all Oregon school districts. Additional information regarding the VTEP program is available by contacting Rendy Jantz at 503-947-5695 or rendy.jantz@state.or.us eMail.
• The Binational Teacher Exchange Program (BTEP):The Binational Teacher Exchange Program (BTEP) is a summer exchange program occurring in schools which have connections with the Oregon Migrant Program and Mexico. The Teacher Exchange Program is a component of the Binational Migrant Education Initiative (BMEI). There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Departments of Education in both the United States and Mexico. The MOU emphasizes cooperation at the federal level and encourages joint activities at the state, local, and institutional levels. There is also a reciprocal request from Mexico for Oregon to send educators to train Mexican teachers to teach English. For further information regarding the BTEP or the BMEI, please contact Jonathan Fernow at 503-947-5807 or jonathan.fernow@state.or.us eMail.

Susan's Schedule

Week of the 5th - Superintendent Castillo participated in a planning meeting for the NCLB waiver proposals, attended as an advisor to the Oregon Education Investment Board meeting, and was interviewed by Comcast Newsmakers at the Oregon Food Bank.

Week of the 12th – Susan attended as an advisor to the Oregon Education Investment Board meeting, participated in planning meetings for the NCLB waiver proposals, and attended the Oregon Leadership Network Fall Institute.

Week of the 19th – Susan will meet with education agency heads and attend the Governor’s Office biweekly education meeting.

The December 2011 issue of Superintendent's Pipeline is available on the ODE website.

For scheduling inquiries, please visit our website at: http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=848
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