||No child left behind . . . really
Parkrose School Districts Russell Academy of Academic Achievement begins the 2003 - 2004 school year with an ambitious new approach designed for student success and maximum results
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
As students arrive on campus for the start of the 2003-2004 school year at Russell Elementary School in the Parkrose School District, it is apparent that something new is in the wind. A sign proclaims the school is now the Russell Academy of Academic Achievement and students are attired in fresh new uniforms.
|Russell Academy of Academic Achievement students (from left) John Church, Evan and Cara Lindsay wait for the school's doors to open, beginning the school year. Students pictured are attired in their required uniforms. The new code of dress is one part of an experiment called "The Package" being implemented by staff and parents in the 2003 -2004 school year.
|MEMO PHOTO: TIM CURRAN
Russell principal Jeff Rose and his staff have been working since Roses arrival at the school in the fall of 2000 to boost student achievement. He terms these changes a re-opening of the neighborhood school with its cultural norms intact.
Originally from Southern California, Rose did his undergraduate work at Long Beach State. He came north to Portlands Lewis and Clark College to earn his Masters Degree in Education, beginning his career teaching in the West Linn/Wilsonville School District. While teaching 4th and 5th graders at Wilsonville Primary, Roses natural leadership qualities surfaced. His principal encouraged him to consider school administration. Soon Rose earned his administrative credentials from Lewis and Clark and went in search of an opportunity. The position of principal at Russell Elementary in the Parkrose School District had recently opened and Rose jumped at the chance. From the very beginning he says he was looking for the kind of school community represented there: A metropolitan school with a dedicated staff, a culturally diverse student-body and a district that encourages site based decisions.
Rose says the transition from Russell Elementary to Russell Academy of Academic Achievement has been a natural one. He and his staff began with a seemingly simple concept: improve reading and math comprehension in all grades. Through hard work, diligence and the use of some innovative approaches, progress was recognizable. Then Rose and school staff sat down and critically evaluated themselves. After open and honest discussions that included classroom results and overall school climate, they awarded themselves a grade of B. While they believe B to be a good grade, they dont believe its good enough. Like any ambitious, prideful student Rose and his staff have their sights set on an A+.
With that, Rose, committed parents and school staff developed The Package. The Package consists of six equally important points:
- Aligned Curriculum
- Extended Day Opportunities
- Lower Class Size
- School Climate Improvements
- Code of Dress
- Name Change
Aligned Curriculum outlines for teachers and parents the grade level expectations in the areas of reading and math. By prescribing what to teach and when, students will encounter a seamless transition from teacher to teacher and grade to grade.
Because Russell Academy of Academic Achievement will qualify as a Title I school this year, the funds available will be used in part for Extended Day Opportunities. The first of these will be an after school reading program. What might be a motto to support this program appears on the school web site (www.russell.parkrose.k12.or.us). The goal is to read. The reward is to learn.
In what is described as a complicated schedule, the staff at Russell achieves Lower Class Size by flooding all available building personnel into classrooms during daily reading and math segments. This gives the students small-group focused instruction conducive to learning and reduces instructor to student ratios to 1 to 6 or 7 in reading classes and 1 to 13-15 in math classes. Four years ago, 60% of third graders at Russell Elementary were reading at grade level. Since beginning this focused instruction, 88% of third graders are currently reading at grade level.
School Climate Improvement is described as how the school feels. Each school day begins with recitation of The Russell Pledge (see sidebar).
|The Russell Academy Pledge
I believe I can achieve and succeed.
I know today will influence what I become
I will be a good listener, because we
are here to learn.
It is my decision.
I will be safe.
I will be kind.
I will be a learner.
I am smart.
I have potential.
I am unique.
I am a Russell Rocket!
The students already know this pledge by heart and reportedly recite it readily with the smallest prompt.
Rose says, We all dress for our work. School is the most important work a child does. As a result, Code of Dress was added based on the belief that coming to school prepared to learn (or do their work) would make a difference in how the students learn. Students will wear white shirts with collars; navy blue pants, shorts, skirts, skorts or jumpers; navy blue or heather gray cardigans, sweaters, sweatshirts or vests, and safe shoes. No jeans or sweats. No high heels or platform shoes. Required clothing is available at most local stores from a list provided to parents.
In what Principal Rose describes as the great summarizer, the Name Change to Russell Academy of Academic Achievement will simply feel different. Changing the name, the thinking goes, will add to the creation of a climate of change and an atmosphere for progress.
By being focused on results, students at Russell Academy of Academic Achievement will meet their potential and the high standards being set for them. While acknowledging it will take hard work and support from parents, staff and himself, Rose is determined to avoid selling kids short and believes they will rise to the expected level of performance.
He is quick to point out that they have not reinvented the wheel. Many schools have incorporated certain aspects of The Package into their plan, but Rose believes having the six points of the plan working in unison makes their approach unique.
While this plan began with an idea, and has moved step by step through discussions within the school, ultimately it had to be approved by the school board. From the initial presentation to Superintendent Michael Taylor and then through the rest of the process, Rose says he met with enthusiastic support. It wouldnt be possible without the kind of community we have at our school. I work with an amazing group of parents and staff, says Rose.
It seems The Package has served to inspire parents as well as staff and students. The Parent Teacher Volunteers (PTV) was a handful of active members four years ago. Now, two-dozen or more active members frequent meetings and school fundraising efforts have tripled. The PTV has raised funds to stock a clothes closet so all students can be prepared for school. Should a student arrive out of uniform, they will be directed to the clothes closet to borrow a change of clothes and go to class. In the case of new enrollees who may not be prepared, the initial suit of clothes can be borrowed or purchased. Code of Dress clothing will be available to families in financial need.
The Russell Rockets are launching a brand new year with a bold new approach and a positive outlook. The aim at Russell Academy of Academic Achievement is to truly leave no child behind. For these parents, this principal, and this schools staff, this is not just a political slogan with dubious results. These people mean it. The results will be exciting to watch.