SFE reveals secret of students’ success

With every email, St. Francis Elementary School celebrates its designation as a Reward School with a special logo.

St. Francis Elementary (SFE) is one of the 128 schools in the state designated as a Reward School, which is the top 15 percent of Title 1 schools in the state, based on 2012 Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) results released by the Minnesota Department of Education in August 2012.

It took a lot of hard work to get there, according to SFE Principal Kathy Kohnen.

About four years ago, Kohnen began working with her staff to use the test results, both the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and the after chapter assessments that each class does, as a gauge on how each student is doing, she said.

They started looking at how each of the subgroups, such as special education and English Language Learners (ELL) and reading and math intervention students, were doing and later included all students in the process, according to Kohnen.

During the process, Kohnen said she realized the instructional specialists and the classroom teachers were not communicating about what the students were doing or how they were doing in the breakout instructional sessions.

Now every two weeks the specialists email the classroom teachers and Kohnen on what is being done in the breakout sessions and the teachers do the same for the specialists.

“I check that everyone is communicating,” Kohnen said.

A year into the new process, the teachers started doing math assessment tests after each math chapter, she said.

They compare how each student is doing with each strand, such as converting numerals into words or words into numerals, Kohnen said.

They did this for students in the subgroups as well as the mainstream students, she said.

The teachers do the same for the reading assessments using set curriculum benchmarks to determine how the students are doing on the strands, including story structure and theme, Kohnen said.

“While everyone gets the assessments, you have to do something with them,” she said.

It is making a difference now that the teachers in each grade level meet to discuss issues, staff works to identified what is working for each teacher and see if there is a way to incorporate their technique in other classrooms and they communicate with the specialists biweekly, according to Kohnen.

They also constantly re-assess the students’ progress, Kohnen said.

When the original MMR numbers came out in May 2012 for 2010 and 2011 school years, SFE averaged 61.99 percent on the MMR and 64.41 percent on the Focus Rating (FR), which is based on proficiency and growth of minority students and students receiving special services, like English Learners, special education and free and reduced price lunch.

For 2011-2012, the number for which were released in August 2012, SFE scored 94.46 percent on the MMR and 95.43 percent on the FR.

“I think it is fascinating that the teachers working with the same students are communicating and it is obviously working (in the SFE) building,” said Kurt Becker, St. Francis School District 15 curriculum and assessment associate director.

“It is one of the secrets to their success,” he said.

But SFE has a lot of things sprinkled into the mix that makes it a Reward School, Becker said.

SFE has a great staff with dedicated teachers and a commitment from the community, he said.

Celebration schools

St. Francis Middle School (SFMS) was one 211 schools designated as a Celebration eligible school in August 2012.

To be classified as a Celebration school in the second 10 percent of Minnesota schools, SFMS staff had to describe in 750 words or less the innovative methods the school is using to promote long-term growth and help students do better on the tests, said Principal Dale Johnson.

When the Jan. 25 list of 57 Celebration schools came out, SFMS was not on the list.

“It was disappointing,” said Johnson.

It was strange to be in the second 10 percent of schools but not be a Celebration School, he said.

Of the 211 schools that were eligible, only 146 schools applied to be a Celebration School, said Keith Hovis, MDE deputy communications director.

The 57 schools that were selected by MDE Deputy Commissioner Rose Chu and a committee, who looked at the applications to determine which schools had the best innovative efforts that set them up for long-term improvement and growth, he said.

“All schools should be proud of their growth,” Hovis said.

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]