Cassville principals team up to improve student performance

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

School leaders contemplate strategies in response to dip in APR score

The Cassville school principals considered ways to improve student growth after its 2014 annual performance report -- which indicates whether the district is meeting the needs of its students -- decreased by 12.5 percent over 2013.

"We need to show growth," said Eric White, Cassville Intermediate School principal. "We all know that. We have a lot of things structurally in-place right now that we've just started doing in the last year and a half that are allowing us to better fix those things that are just not quite where we want them.

"We're not saying we are bad, but we know that we can be better, and that's what we want."

Melanie Stringer, Cassville Middle School principal, said she has told her teachers again and again this year that showing growth is going to be difficult but not impossible.

"In Cassville, we try to create a situation for our teachers where they are lifelong learners along with our students and giving them opportunities to grow and become better instructors, so we will see that student growth that we want and hope to see," Stringer said.

Since 1990, the Missouri School Improvement Program with Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has tallied the APR scores. The program started its fifth version during the 2012--13 school year. After this school year, DESE will have enough data to separate each school district into the following accreditation levels based on a three-year average: Accredited with distinction, at least 90 percent (additional criteria as yet to be determined by the Missouri State Board of Education); Accredited, 70 to 100 percent; Provisional, 50 to 69.9 percent; and Unaccredited, 0 to 49.9 percent.

The Cassville School District was at 88.6 percent in the 2013 report. It decreased to 76.1 percent in the 2014 report.

Jeff Swadley, Cassville High School principal, said he has talked with his core teachers about the APR scores and the MSIP 5, and he told them that it is not that they are doing well, but they have kind of plateaued.

"So, you've got to find out where's that road block, what caused us to plateau, what caused us to stop growing," Swadley said. "And, the only way to get that improvement is to have the kind of conversations that we are having, all of us, with our teachers.

"What hinders you from showing that growth? Talk to me about that. What do you need that you don't have? What can I give you? What can I supply you? What can I help you with to continue to see that growth and no longer plateau. And, we all do that in our personal lives. We do that in the classroom. You do that in your job. It's a normal situation, but it's recognizing we plateaued. We've done that. And now, the discussions are what's going to propel us over that hump, what's going to move us on to the next stage."

Dare to dazzle is the building mantra at Eugene Thomas Elementary School, said Principal Catherine Weaver. The school staff and teachers try to think outside the box and push themselves to think beyond boundaries and perceptions.

"If there were no lines drawn, if we had no limitations, what would it be?" Weaver said. "We are coming up with some different strategies. Teachers are teaming up even if it is just 15 minutes a day, so that they can partner up to address targeted interventions for certain students.

"But, dare to dazzle is what our focus is, so that we don't want to just be good. We want to out shine, out think, whatever it takes to get those kids where we want them to be."

Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent, said the majority of the MSIP 5 points comes from the end-of-course assessments and the Missouri Assessment Program exams that test the students' knowledge in English language arts, math, science and social studies.

"If the kid has a bad day or does it well, that's the way it is," LeCompte said. "We can make excuses all day, but it is what it is."

MSIP 5 also evaluates college and career readiness and the graduation rate for high school students, and it evaluates attendance throughout each school district.

There is some relevance to the accountability system that we have, Swadley said. Without that accountability piece, the district can argue all day long whether the MSIP 5 is truly a valid representation of Cassville, Swadley said.

"But without that piece and setting a standard, maybe we don't have these conversations because we don't have to," he said. "So, education will improve no matter what because of these conversations, and we will continue to improve."

MSIP 5 is a very complicated accountability system for the district, LeCompte said.

"There are many, many pieces and parts that go to it," she said.

Swadley said he thinks any time the district has something new, the principals, the teachers and the administration should talk to each other and ask questions.

"The accountability piece may be complex, but it's helping us to become better educators and better instructors and better administrators and better facilitators," he said.

You have to build relationships with your students, White said. Teachers start building those relationships in late July or early August when they contact their new students. He also meets with his teachers throughout the school year to identify areas that need improvement.

"It may be something a little different every year, and we try to focus on those areas," he said. "We try to make sure that our students are engaged all the time, and that we have good plans set forth in every classroom, and we can keep that engagement high."

Weaver said the elementary school tries to focus on building trust between students and teachers.

"You have to have a safe learning environment where kids feel OK to make mistakes, knowing that is just part of the learning process," she said.

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