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Princeton makes great strides as improving school
Five years ago, Princeton Elementary School couldn't see itself rising to the level of excellence most schools hope for.
The school was performing so low on standardized tests that it was on a state watch list.
School officials said teachers had become too complacent, expectations were too low and students endured a non-productive learning environment.
Worse, the school was facing the loss of accreditation from Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which forced the school board to make big changes in its administrative and teaching staffs.
"The school was in real jeopardy," said Princeton Superintendent John Greene, who was part of the new structure. "It was a shock."
Without accreditation, the district stood to lose its federal financial aid funding, which makes up the majority of the school's revenue.
The accrediting commission cited a number of concerns, Greene said, including inadequate communication between teachers, administrators and school board members.
There was also an inconsistency in the way students were taught, and there was extremely poor alignment between the curriculum and state standards.
The school wasn't meeting state benchmarks, Greene said.
In 2007, only 18 percent of the school's second graders were proficient in English language arts and mathematics, according to state records.
That year Princeton Elementary scored 713 on its Academic Performance Index, the cornerstone of California's Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, which measures the academic performance and growth of schools.
It was about a 30 point drop from the previous year.
Something had to change, Greene said, and it started with convincing the staff that students were entitled to a good education.
"In addition to safety and security, all students deserve quality teachers and leaders," Greene said.
By 2012, Princeton Elementary School had reached 834, slightly higher than the state target of 800.
"Change didn't happen over night," said Greene, at a training seminar at Glenn County Office of Education last Saturday. "It may seem like it did, but it really didn't."
What did change was the attitude that teaching isn't just a job, said lead teacher Dena Schmidt.
"Teachers make the difference," Schmidt said. "Teachers have to make a connection with kids and they have to be team players. They have to understand that teaching isn't an 8-to-5 job, and they have to think outside the box and not be afraid to take risks."
In addition to new or energized teachers, the district hired a new counselor, the first in the district, and adopted a new curriculum.
"When you are in program improvement, so many things need to change," said counselor Jada Correa. "But it takes awhile. It's not something that you can do in a year."
Eventually the school's culture began to change to one that accepted that all students can learn, officials said.
Princeton Elementary has approximately 84 students.
Of those, 64 percent are Hispanic, 29 percent are Caucasian and 6 percent are American Indian.
About 86 percent are low-income, Correa said.
One of the biggest changes at Princeton Elementary came with the selection of the California Treasures curriculum in 2010, which replaced a more rigid curriculum that generated controversy because it required teachers to teach specific material in a specific order and didn't meet district expectations.
The new curriculum provided teachers with goals and strategies rather than specific lesson plans and suggested a different approach for students with different reading proficiencies.
The new language arts curriculum, an energized staff and parent support has helped the school turn itself around, officials said.
In addition to increases in schoolwide API scores, the school for the first time began seeing a large jump in academic grown in all its subgroups.
English language learners jumped from 28 percent scoring at proficient levels to 42 percent by the spring of 2010.
Hispanic students jumped from 30 percent proficient to 56 percent and socioeconomically disadvantaged students jumped from 35 percent proficient.
By 2012, English language learners were 46 percent proficient.
Hispanic students were 56 percent proficient and socio-economically disadvantaged were 65 percent proficient.
About 85 percent of Princeton's Caucasian students were proficient.
"We may not have the highest API in Glenn County, but we are higher when it comes to our subgroups," Correa said. "We are pretty proud of that."
The most remarkable thing about improvement, Schmidt said, is that Princeton students know and understand what their school has accomplished in just five years.
"The students are very proud," she said. "They know how hard they have worked and it makes them want to continue to improve."
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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