By John R. Schirmer
Nashville Elementary School and Nashville Junior High School have been been recognized as two of the highest achieving schools in Arkansas by the Office for Educational Policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Nashville Elementary received two Outstanding Educational Performance Awards. Nashville Junior High received four.
Elementary was named Southwest Region Overall High Achieving and Southwest Region Math High Achieving.
Junior high was named Southwest Region Overall High Achieving, Southwest Region English/Language Arts High Achieving, Southwest Region Math High Achieving and Southwest Region Science High Achieving.
Today’s issue of the News-Leader will feature the recognition for Nashville Elementary. The junior high awards will be featured in the March 15 issue.
Awards are based on the OEP-created school GPA, calculated on the basis of the percentage of students that perform at each level on the 2016 ACT Aspire math, English/Language Arts, and science exams administered during the spring semester, OEP said.
Nashville Elementary’s scores in math, English/Language Arts, and science secured the Southwest Region Overall High Achieving Award, according to Principal Latito Williams.
Math scores led to the Southwest Region Math High Achieving Award.
Nashville Elementary is the only grades 4-6 configured building in the region to receive the overall award and the math award, Williams said.
Other recipients in Southwest Arkansas are configured for grades 5-8.
“This was the first year for ACT Aspire,” Williams said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We were told to just teach school. We pushed our kids as hard as we could, and they achieved.”
One factor “that pushed us over the edge was our intervention time in our regular school day,” according to Williams. “We work on definite areas four days a week. We focus on what the students need.
“We’re excited about what we’ve done. In the past, we’ve won Beating the Odds awards” for school with at least 66 percent of students participating in the free/reduced lunch program. The awards for 2016 were based on scores from all schools in Southwest Arkansas, not those with specific numbers of students on free/reduced lunches.
Writing is an area which needs improvement throughout the state, according to Aspire officials and state educators. Williams said that writing scores on Aspire were low statewide. “That’s our major focus this year. We want to help kids improve in those areas.”
Assistant Principal Rick Rebsamen agreed that “everybody in Arkansas had problems with the writing test. The state has recognized problems with the writing exam.”
Williams said the elementary school intervention time includes a plan for reading and writing. The school also offers a more incentive-based Accelerated Reading program and has fully implemented MobyMax in the mornings and afternoons for students with Academic Improvement Plans.
MobyMax creates an individualized eduction plan for each student to ensure that he or she progresses as quickly as possible while ensuring that the student works on areas in which he or she may have difficulty.
“We’ve seen lots of growth” through MobyMax, Williams said.
Rebsamen said that the school is “identifying areas that the student is struggling in. There’s no sense in [repeating] what he’s already good in. Our bridging the gap plan has seen students jump two or three grade levels.”
Elementary school’s new Garden Lab is also helping, Rebsamen said. “We’re excited about what we’ve been able to do with the Garden Lab. It’s fun, and student learning is addressed, too.”
Teacher Twyla Nichols has worked with the project since its inception and has discussed the lab at educational co-operative meetings.
“People around the state are looking at it,” Rebsamen said. “She’s starting to win awards for it. [Educational officials] are complimentary of what students are doing in that class.”
Williams said technology is also helping to increase student achievement. “We’ve bought laptops for our students. They have more access to technology now that ever before. They’re comfortable with technology. We have 180 laptops and buy more every year.”
Elementary has a “focused plan for keyboarding set up in the fourth grade. Students learn to type as fourth graders. They learn Microsoft Office in the fifth and sixth grades,” according to Williams.
The school acquired a new computer lab for Bernice Jamison this year, and it is in the process of being set up, Williams said.
The special education department is 1-1 in laptops for students at school.
“Everybody has access at school. It’s neat to have these resources available,” Williams said.
“I’m very proud of our students, our teachers and the effort everybody made toward the ACT Aspire. We had some areas where 9 out of 10 students passed. We expect tremendous growth this year,” Williams said.