TURNER — Fifth-graders Jordan Izer, Scout Sylvester and Devan Rolfe came out of their regular Turner Elementary School classroom Thursday and sat with reading interventionist Julie Projansky.

The teacher asked, “What’s our word of the week, Scout?”

“It is ‘wallop,’” he answered.

“Wallop means what, Jordan?”

“To hit hard,” Jordan said.

Projansky asked each student to give her a sentence using the word.


“I walloped my CD player so hard it broke into pieces,” Devan said. (Devan was the only one of the three who didn’t use “wallop” and “brother” in the same sentence.)

The reading intervention program, which helps 25 percent of the school’s 200 students improve fluency and comprehension, is one reason Turner Elementary School won a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon award.

The award is given for high student achievement. Turner Elementary is the only Maine school to win a national Blue Ribbon award this year.

Principal Cynthia Alexander and Projansky will attend ceremonies Monday and Tuesday and collect the award in Washington, D.C., along with representatives of 336 other public and private schools across the nation.

To win the award, a school must show that it is meeting the needs of all students.

In recent years, Turner Elementary has boosted its curriculum initiatives in math, reading and writing through more professional development for teachers. A literacy specialist coaches teachers on perfecting their craft.


Another thing Turner’s doing right is that it has a strong leadership team, Alexander said. The team includes six or seven educators in the school, including teachers from each grade level, the physical education teacher and an education technician.

Good leadership takes more than a principal, Alexander said. “No leader can do this alone; it takes the whole school.”

Every teacher has individualized learning plans for students. The goal is that no child gets lost, Alexander said. And teachers are on the same page of teaching what’s needed, “so when students go into the following year, they don’t have gaps. That’s a real issue in schools.”

Projansky said everyone at the school, from the custodian to the gym teacher, “all care about all of the kids here. We all feel ownership for what the kids learn. You might see a phys-ed teacher helping in a reading class, or the custodian taking a student under his wing to help play the drums. All the kids belong to all of us.”

Parents are invited to the school for special events, including math games night, arts night and positive behavior night, among others. The school wants parents “to be part of the team,” Projansky said.

When it comes to test scores, Turner Elementary’s improved from 2010 to 2013. The school was in the top 15 percent for Title I schools, according to the Maine Department of Education.


For example, the percentage of fifth-graders scoring “proficient or above” in math jumped from 64 percent to 80 percent.

In 2014, the Maine DOE gave the school a “C.” It had received a “B” the year before. Warren said data considered for the Blue Ribbon award “is different and more complex” than what the state uses for annual school grades.

Turner Elementary’s proficiency level “is well above the state average in math and close to the state average in reading,” Warren said. The school is doing much “to engage and inspire students. We find incredible things happening at Turner Elementary. They have a lot to be proud of.”

The three fifth-graders working with Projansky said extra reading help makes them better students. “It helps you with visualizing things and understanding more of the book,” Jordan Izer said. “It helps you get attached to the book.”

Scout Sylvester and Devan Rolfe said the coaching improves their fluency. “I can read smoother,” Devan said.

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