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LES receives Blue Ribbon award

Leavenworth one of eight schools in state, second Crawford school in three years, to receive honor

September 23, 2009
This time it's Leaven-worth Elementary School's turn.

The school has received notification that it is the second Crawford County Community School Corp. elementary school to be named a federal No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, joining Milltown Elementary, which received the award in 2006.

LES Principal Mike Key said the honor is recognition for "a lot of effort" by the entire school community, including staff and parents.

Three hundred fourteen public and private schools in the country — including only eight in Indiana — received the award.

"Today, Leavenworth Elementary stands side-by-side with the best schools of the nation," Key said.

LES, like Milltown, was selected as a school with at least 40 percent disadvantaged students that has dramatically improved student achievement. Schools were also selected by being in the top 10 percent of the state with fewer than 40 percent disadvantaged students.

Leavenworth, where 51 percent of students qualified for the free/reduced lunch program in the 2008-09 school year, saw 86.7 percent of all tested students pass both the English/language arts and math sections of the ISTEP+ exam in the fall of 2008. That's an increase of more than 30 percent since early in the decade and is 13 percent higher than the state average.

Key said the school looked at ISTEP scores and knew it had to do something different. He was disappointed that only 42 percent of LES sixth-graders went on to some kind of post-secondary education — whether it be college, technical or vocational — after graduating from high school.

"That was really what we wanted to attack more than anything," he said.

Of the former LES sixth-graders who graduated high school this past spring, 78 percent enrolled in some type of post-secondary education institution, Key said.

"That's really the most important thing to me," he said.

Laura Watts, who teaches reading to fourth- through sixth-graders, credited the overall improvement to a couple of philosophical changes.

The school implemented Dr. Ruby Payne's research on children from poverty and strategies to use in and out of the classroom. For example, teachers began using mental models for math, graphic organizers for reading, comprehensive strategies and the extensive use of manipulatives.

In addition, LES began looping students in grades four through six. Looping is where a teacher who has expertise in a particular subject matter, such as Watts with reading and spelling, teaches that subject to all of the the upper-level students.

"We can follow those kids," Watts said. "We already know their strengths and weaknesses."

For the past three years, the students, instead of the teachers, have moved from room to room, just like they will in junior high school. Besides the academic benefits of looping in general, it teaches them responsibility and better prepares them for when they leave the elementary school.

Kindergarten teacher Erin Hammond said the corporation's decision to implement full-time kindergarten years ago also has helped students by laying a stronger educational foundation. When they enter first grade, students are now reading instead of still working on sounds, she said.

Key also credited the school's philosophy on field trips. LES now invites parents along on the upper-level trips, which have included visits to Chicago, skiing and camping.

"We thought it was important that the parents saw these things that the kid was seeing so, hopefully, some of it bleeds over to them, as well," he said.

The school also has a strong parent-teacher organization, Hammond added.

Karen Cox, who teaches grades four through six, also credited the school's Title I assistants, as well as communication, not only within LES, but with the junior high school. The LES staff cares how former students perform after they leave the school, she said, noting she makes it a point to talk with them and ask them how they're doing when she she sees them out in public.

Key said the school works hard to develop that sense of community among its staff, students and parents. To illustrate this, he shared a story about a student who called one morning to say he missed the bus and ask Key if he could come get him. Key said yes, and when he got there, the boy said his sister, who attends the high school, also missed the bus and asked Key if he could give her a ride to school. Key again said yes, and on their way, the girl asked him if he would mind picking up her boyfriend, who also missed the bus.

Dr. Mark Eastridge, corporation superintendent, said there is "a tremendous amount of positive energy" at LES. He credited what he called "sustained quality leadership" from Key and others in the school.

"He trusts our professionalism," Watts said, "and he gives us room to make academic decisions."

Key said he is pleased that LES has been honored, but he hopes the other schools in the corporation, as well as those in neighboring counties, someday also will receive the award, saying it would speak highly of the good work they're doing.

LES will officially receive the Blue Ribbon award during a ceremony at Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2 and 3. Key and a teacher have been invited, but additional teachers and Eastridge likely also will attend. Eastridge said he didn't attend when Milltown received its award "and I've always regretted that."

Eastridge said LES also is planning a couple of public celebrations later this fall.

First, however, LES officials will join those from Milltown in speaking at the joint conference of the Indiana School Boards Association and Indiana Superintendents Associa-tion in Indianapolis. They will speaking during the "Share Your Success" section. Crawford County was just one of 10 of the 292 school corporations in the state selected to make a presentation.

"These folks really make it look easy," Eastridge said of LES's success, "but there's really a lot of hard work and research that goes into making it look easy."

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