IGNACIO – On Monday, the first day of school at Ignacio Elementary School, teacher Daniel Holley used gummy worms, Life Savers and paper clips to teach his third grade students about teamwork and communication.
“Really, the goal is just to teach kids that if they all put their minds together, they can focus on a common goal and achieve it,” Holley said.
Like Holley, other teachers, parents and students launched into big educational goals days after the school improved its state performance rating.
Last week, the state released its preliminary school performance ratings, which will be confirmed in December. Ignacio Elementary is now in the second highest of four categories after six years of effort. With an eye on maintaining that progress, teachers – and students – started the year with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.
“We’re really proud that we were able to move up and out of the priority improvement and into the improvement ranking,” Holley said.
Colorado’s school accountability system rates districts based on achievement on state literacy, math and science tests; on annual academic growth; and on postsecondary readiness as measured by graduation rates, dropout rates, scores on college entrance exams and enrollment in college.
The ratings affect state monitoring, federal grants, non-federal school improvement grants and the perception of the school or district, said Kathy Pokorney, Ignacio School District curriculum director.
After the 2018-19 school year, Ignacio Elementary rose into a higher rating category, called improvement, with a score of 47.1%. The score is also about 10% higher than the 2017-18 school year score of 37.5%, Pokorney said.
For the last six years, the school has either received the lowest rating, called turnaround, or the second-lowest rating, priority improvement. Now, with the improvement rating, it will enter into a two-year probationary period during which it has to maintain or improve that rating, she said.
Principal Barb Fjerstad is focused, in part, on making students feel safe and comfortable at school and, in part, on improving school performance.
Last year was the first year the school implemented the WIN, or the “What I Need” program. Students are often at different learning levels in a classroom, and the program creates targeted learning groups that challenge and engage every student at his or her level.
“I think last year was definitely a learning curve for us on that, and so we’re fine-tuning it this year,” she said. The school is also giving teachers more resources through school-provided lesson planning assistance and a new, in-depth language arts curriculum.
Teachers, parents and students expressed high hopes for the school year as students arrived Monday morning.
Parents, such as Samantha Maeze, walked younger children into the classrooms, planning to help them learn to read, improve attendance and enjoy school.
“It’s an emotional day for sure,” said Maeze, who was taking her oldest son to kindergarten for the first time.
First grade student, Ezekiel Rojas, just transferred to Ignacio Elementary from Bayfield.
“I’m excited about going to the library because you can read books, and it’s good for your brain,” said Rojas, currently a fan of the “Harry Potter” series.
Holley’s goal for the third grade is to teach students the value of hard work by keeping them active throughout the school year. Showing students how to work hard will improve scores, work ethic and overall outlook on school.
“We want to teach them that we’re a community,” he said. “We’re a family. We’ve got to work together if we want to get things done.”