Elementary school honored for closing achievement gap

The hallways at East Port Orchard Elementary School soon could be lined with as many banners celebrating academic achievements as the typical gym honoring athletic accomplishments.

EPO received one of the National Title I, Part A Distinguished School awards last week. It was one of only four schools in Washington state to be recognized. The others are Bemiss Elementary (Spokane), Crownhill Elem-entary (Bremerton) and Ever-green Heights Elementary (Auburn).

“I’m very proud of these schools,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said in a news release. “The achievements they have made are a shining example to the rest of the state that all kids can learn, even with challenging circumstances.”

EPO Principal Kristi Smith said her school was selected for the award based on closing the achievement gap between low-income students and other demographics in mathematics.

EPO will receive a $5,000 grant, plus money to send two people to the 2012 National Title I Conference.

“Traditionally, there is a large gap,” Smith said. “Our groups are performing equal based on their socioeconomic background.”

At least 40 percent of a school’s students must be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch to qualify as a Title I school. According to state records, 53.8 percent of EPO’s 511 students in May came from low-income households, which is the highest rate in the South Kitsap School District.

Despite that, EPO is one of the most distinguished schools in SKSD. It has been recognized as a Washington State School of Distinction four times in the last five years. In 2009, it was a National Title I Distinguished School.

“We have extremely high standards for our students,” Smith said. “We hold them accountable to achieve those standards.”

Smith, who has been the principal at EPO since 2000, said her staff accomplishes that through several different methods. She said “Collaboration Wednesdays,” when classes start 45 minutes later than normal, are helpful because they allow teachers to review student performance and make adjustments based on that information.

The grant, Smith said, also will allow the school to “reinvest in student development and professional learning.”

The state House and Senate passed legislation in December that was expected to close most of Washington’s $1.1 billion shortfall. Those cuts — combined with previous ones by Gov. Christine Gregoire — were expected to reduce the deficit by around $700 million.

That encompassed a $50 million reduction from public schools, which included the elimination of funding to keep class sizes smaller in kindergarten through fourth grade.

SKSD faced nearly a $7 million budget shortfall for 2011-12. Marcia Wentzel, the district’s director of business services, said in August that the district reduced 23.5 full-time equivalent teaching positions.

Given those setbacks, Smith said the grant is even more significant.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” she said.

In addition to working with teaching and students, Smith said EPO’s faculty also tries to involve parents. She said no one benefits when parents cannot assist their children with homework. To avoid that scenario, Smith said the school features a resource center with learning materials. She said teachers also often have links on their websites that help explain homework.

“Parent involvement is a huge component in Title I,” Smith said.

She said EPO also has featured night events in the past to assist families in learning, such as bringing in a banker to discuss investing.

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