Woodcrest named academic excellence spotlight award winner

Woodcrest Elementary School for the second year in a row has received the 2012 Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation Spotlight Award on closing the achievement gap.

Jeremy Penaloza and Levi Kamara read at an all-school, end-of-the-year morning meeting while Amy Bjurlin, Woodcrest’s continuous improvement coach, and Principal Judi Kahoun look on. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Jeremy Penaloza and Levi Kamara read at an all-school, end-of-the-year morning meeting while Amy Bjurlin, Woodcrest’s continuous improvement coach, and Principal Judi Kahoun look on. Photo by Elyse Kaner

A K-3 school, Woodcrest is one of two schools statewide named this year’s spotlight award winners.

“I am thrilled that Woodcrest is recognized for this achievement,” Principal Judi Kahoun said in an e-mail to the Life. “Our staff believes in each and every single student and goes above and beyond to meet their social, emotional and academic needs.”

Brian Grogan, board chairman of MAEF, presented the award to Kahoun who accepted on behalf of staff and students June 7 at an all-school morning meeting held the last day of school before summer vacation. Parents and friends attended as well.

Grogan said students at Woodcrest were reading at 87 percent proficiency. The school received the award for showing significant improvements on closing the achievement gap.

“You’re in a great school,” he said at the meeting in the school’s gymnasium.

A stand out for Woodcrest’s MAEF Spotlight Award application was its four-tier system, which quickly and consistently monitors students for achievement results. An example would be its check-in and check-out program, an effort to create a holistic learning environment. The initiative connects at-risk students with adults daily.

Among other criteria the awards were granted to both schools, Grogan said in an interview, “the schools have a caring attitude toward their students and they hold their students accountable.”

Sauk Rapids Rice High School was the other school receiving this year’s MAEF Spotlight Award.

Meeting individual needs

To close the achievement gap, Woodcrest, along with the district’s other schools, has personalized teaching to meet the individual needs of students. Teachers look into data and adjust instructional strategies.

“At Woodcrest, we have revamped our reading instruction so that our most at-risk learners are getting intensive, sustained interventions, while at the same time being sure our students at or above grade-level targets are being challenged so they continue to grow as well,” Kahoun said in her e-mail.

The school also strives to ensure that students feel a personal connection with staff, are engaged and see the value in their own learning, according to Kahoun.

Last year, when the school won its first spotlight award, 56 percent of the students were on free and reduced lunch. By spring, 82 percent of the students had met their oral reading fluency goals.

This fall, 50 percent of the third-graders met their oral reading fluency benchmarks. But by May, 88 percent of the third-graders had met their oral reading fluency goals, while the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches had increased to 61 percent.

Woodcrest’s second-graders have also worked to eliminate the racial achievement gap. Eighty-two percent of its white students, 83 percent of black students and 83 percent of Hispanic students have met their year end oral reading fluency benchmarks, according to Kahoun.

Students spoke

In addition to Grogan, student representatives spoke at the assembly.

Even if the words she reads are longer words, “I can sound them out,” a young girl said.

Another student said he made a good friend at Woodcrest. A friend who helped him out and never let him down.

The morning meeting ended with a video of students sharing memories. A student gave advice to kids who will be new to the school. They should start getting new friends, she said. Others said they will miss the field trips. The nice teachers. Learning and exercising their brains.

“They teach me and I can become smarter and smarter each day,” a boy said near the end of the video.

Physical education teacher John Vogel sent the students off with some learning targets for summer.

Play outside. Don’t watch too much TV and, this summer, read lots and lots.

Most important, stay safe, he said.

As further proof of their reading prowess, Woodcrest students read the targets together from a large screen set up in front of the gymnasium for the presentation.

The Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation is a non-profit organization, promoting academic excellence in Minnesota schools and communities through public-private partnerships. For more information, visit www.maefboard.com.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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