By LESLIE COLLINS
October 10, 2012
As Kansas City Public Schools continues to push for state accreditation, one school is already showing progress.
James Elementary School in Historic Northeast recently earned the 2012 Missouri High Progress Award. Only seven Title I schools in Missouri and Kansas earned the recognition for showing significant improvement on state assessments in communication arts and math.
Since 2010, the number of James students scoring proficient or advanced in communication arts has risen from 16 percent to 30 percent. In math, the number rose from 29 percent to 53 percent.
“I was over the moon because we’ve worked so hard here,” James Elementary Principal Dr. Jo Nemeth said of the award. “We just really want our kids to be happy, safe and do well in school. It’s a united goal.”
Nearly 460 students attend James and 80 to 85 percent of those students are English Language Learners (ELL), said Nemeth. While some students have lived in the U.S. for several years, others just moved to the U.S., being exposed to American culture for the first time.
“Recent studies show that it takes sometimes five to seven years to be completely fluent in the language,” she said. “You speak it first, you learn some words and you learn it orally. But, to learn it in a written way and comprehend it at high levels, it takes a while and it takes a lot of practice. Some kids make the transition more rapidly than others.”
To cater to students at James, teachers use a number of software programs geared toward helping students learn at their own level. Classroom teachers and ELL teaches also regularly collaborate, devising strategies to fit the needs of their students. In addition, there are weekly meetings between the pre-kindergarten through second grade teachers and third through sixth grade teachers. Then, there’s KCPS Instructional Coach Rodney Hare, who provides professional development, meeting weekly with teachers in groups and individually.
“He’s coaching from behind the scenes to help teachers be the best they can be,” Nemeth said.
Hare has worked at James for two years and for 26 years with the school district. Hare said he’s always focused on “How can I help?” Both Hare and teachers use test data to create lesson plans and meet the needs of the students. Oftentimes, teachers will “differentiate lessons,” breaking up students into groups with similar needs.
“We will try to differentiate lessons so students can be pushed or be remediated in areas that they need help in,” he said.
Asked to describe the teachers at James, Hare said, “I brag about them all the time. They’re dedicated, hardworking and they’re able to utilize information to better plan and meet the needs of our students.
“We collaborate as a staff at this building, so that’s a key part. The more we communicate with each other, interact and find out what’s going on in different grade levels, we’re able to piece it together and have this extremely talented staff working together.”
Another key to success at James is the access to technology, said third grade teacher Grace Whiting.
“She (Nemeth) really made an effort in making sure we get everything we need in the classroom,” Whiting said. “If you walk around, we all have SMART Boards in the classroom. Not all buildings in the district have that.
“We’re technology spoiled in this building.”
In addition to the SMART Boards, each classroom has a Flip video camera, a document camera and computers loaded with educational software.
Asked about her reaction to James’ recent recognition, Whiting said, “I felt really proud – not just for myself, but for the whole staff in this building because we worked really hard. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, too, as a teacher. It’s great affirmation for all the things we do here in the school.”