Blaine schools celebrate classroom success

Westwood Intermediate School has been named one of 57 Celebration schools by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Alina Jass, left, and Tanner Payne work together on a science project at Westwood Intermediate. Photo by Elyse Kaner
Alina Jass, left, and Tanner Payne work together on a science project at Westwood Intermediate. Photo by Elyse Kaner

The department released a list of the designated Celebration schools Jan. 25.

A total of 146 schools in the state applied for the honor.

The distinction is available to schools receiving Title I funding from the federal government and is based on a school’s level of poverty.

“More than 100 Celebration eligible schools applied for this distinction,” Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota education commissioner, wrote in an email to WWI Principal Tom Larson dated Jan. 17.

“Your selection is a direct reflection of the gains your school has made and the tireless efforts you and your staff have directed toward improving outcomes for your students.”

Last year WWI, a Spring Lake Park District 16 school, was named one of 211 Celebration eligible schools in the state. The next step was to submit a plan to the state applying for Celebration status.

Alternative monitor

Under a state waiver to the national No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirements, Minnesota set up an alternative system of monitoring school performance called Multiple Measure Ratings (MMR) accountability system.

The system, first rolled out in April 2012 and based on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment averages of the prior school year, emphasizes student growth and performance of diverse and disadvantaged students.

The measures of test scores are more comprehensive than under NCLB, according to District 16 officials.

Scores continue to be based on adequate yearly progress results, but the waiver ensures under-performing schools are not subjected to penalties doled out under NCLB.

MMR recognizes top performing schools and focuses on closing the state’s achievement gap in schools.

Under MMR, the top 15 percent of Title I students in the state are recognized as a Reward school.

The next 10 percent of high-achieving Title I schools are deemed Celebration eligible schools.

The bottom percent of Title I schools are designated as Focus or Priority schools and are required to write a school improvement plan and submit it to the state education department for approval.

‘Really excited’

“We were really excited. I was really proud of the staff and kids,” Larson said in a phone interview, after learning WWI was named a Celebration School.

“They’ve been working really hard. It’s nice to be recognized for the work they’ve been doing.”

The school applied to the MDE for the honor last fall. In the application, Larson highlighted how the school has aligned its professional development to results, improved math scores, including the teaching of vocabulary and aligning with state standards.

The school also offers reading interventions, giving students extra support based on their data and aligning instruction to that data.

“We tailored each one (intervention) based on each individual student,” Larson said.

Additionally, the school has introduced 1:1 technology, specifically iPads distributed to each student as another tool to enhance learning, much which allows for immediate feedback.

WWI serves about 1,050 fourth- and fifth-graders.

Davinci Academy

Davinci Academy of Arts and Science, a K-9 public charter school located in Blaine, last August was named a Reward school, landing Davinci in the top 15 percent of Title I schools.

Terry Moffatt, academic director at Davinci Academy, credits the school’s academic success to data-driven assessments. Four times a year, student assessments show where students are growing and where reteaching is needed to ensure all kids are on track, Moffatt said.

The assessments offer opportunities for both the struggling students and students who need more of a challenge.

Also, the school focuses on differentiated instruction. That means the school figures out how each child learns.

A spelling test for example can be taken on paper or orally. One student uses Scrabble tiles to spell out the words, for instance.

“No matter how they do it, they still know how to spell a word,” Moffatt said.

Another example would be book reports. Students can give the report orally, use PowerPoint or write them out, she said.

Davinci Academy is located off of Highway 65 and 131st Ave. N.E. serves about 420 students.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]