LEWISTON — Last year Tina Desrosiers' little boy, William, didn't like school. He fought her about going. Her daughter, Shawntell, loved school, but cried when she didn't make the honor roll.
Things changed this year, the first year of Longley Elementary School's three-year school improvement plan.
William, who is finishing the third grade, “likes coming to school now. His grades are a lot better,” his mother said. Fourth-grader Shawntell “is the most excited kid because she gets it,” and made the honor roll, Derosiers said.
Things are also different for Longley parent Bahga Guelleh. When her daughters, Rayene and Afnan, entered the first grade and kindergarten last fall, their school work “was very low,” the mother said.
“They couldn't say a word in English,” their mother said through an interpreter. “Now, they're communicating in English. She (Rayene) can read everything on the board. I'm very happy,” said Guelleh, who speaks Somali and French, and immigrated to the United States in 2009.
William, Shawntell, Rayene and Afnan each progressed academically more than a year this year at Longley, as did others.
An inner-city school where the majority of students are poor and/or are immigrant students learning to speak English, many start school academically behind their peers, and never catch up. Historically, the school has suffered low student performance.
Hopes are that more resources provided by a three-year school improvement plan — funded through a $2 million federal grant — will turn things around.
As the first year comes to a close, preliminary results are promising, Longley Principal Linda St. Andre said.
According to Northwest Evaluation Assessment results, in the fall 7 percent of Longley students performed at grade level in math. Spring tests results showed 21 percent were at grade level.
In reading, 9 percent of the students were at grade level in the fall, 21 percent in the spring. She cautioned that grade-level performance is tougher than it used to be, and that fall scores are often lower because students have lost learning during the long summer.
Spring test scores also show that 55 percent of Longley students exceeded typical growth rates, amassing more than a year's worth of knowledge and skills. “That's very encouraging. That means 55 percent are catching up,” St. Andre said. In reading, 49 percent gained more than a year's worth of progress.
The school isn't near where it wants to be, she said, but added she's excited about student growth. “It took us three months into the year to figure things out, we had so much new staff and programs, St. Andre said.
Superintendent Bill Webster said changing a school's culture and teaching takes time, it's not something that happens in one year. Spring test results "don't represent the end point," he said, but added that student growth is "wonderful. We've got to keep that up. I don't think Longley could have made any more progress and improvement than it has this year."
The federal grant came with strings, including that the former principal, and half the staff, had to leave. The grant is providing Longley with money to hire extra in-house help: coaches for teachers to help them individualize lessons, reading recovery teachers who provide one-on-one help, extra math teaching, a behavioral expert, a parent center staffed with a Somali interpreter and parent adviser.
Work done with Afnan and Rayene illustrate how students are catching up, St. Andre said.
This year Rayene attended regular classes and received extra help learning to speak English. She also participated in a reading intervention program staffed by reading recovery teachers. “They get reading instruction in the classroom, and one-on-one intervention,” St. Andre said.
At home the mother said she wants her children “to learn everything they can. I made a connection with the teacher to see about her reading level.”
She talked with her daughters' teachers each week. When her first-grader came home each day, “I ask her what homework does she have?”
Guelleh said she frequently takes her daughters to the library. She attends monthly parent meetings at Longley. “The school is doing a great job. I've seen from my kids,” Guelleh said. “I'm very happy.”
Changes to boost student learning are important; the school is in a race against time.
One predictor of students' overall success in school, all the way through college, is how much grade-level work students do by the end of the third grade, educators say. Looking at Afnan's and Rayene's test scores, St. Andre said, “These two little ones, they're sitting in really good positions.”