Caliente Elementary School received word they have been removed from the state’s FOCUS list, one of three designations the Nevada Department of Education uses for underperforming schools.
Lincoln County School Superintendent Steve Hansen said the school has been doing really well the last three or four years, so he wasn’t surprised at their accomplishment. “That whole process of getting off the FOCUS list is a Department of Education process and it takes them several years to allow that to happen.”
Last school year, only four schools were removed from the state’s FOCUS list.
What had been surprising about Caliente Elementary being listed as an underperforming school by the Department of Education was the fact the school had received a national Blue Ribbon Award for Achievement in 2010, but right after that, Principal Cherry Florence, who wasn’t the principal at the time, said, “the state changed the playing field on us, changing the standards they used,” and Caliente’s ranking dropped below normal and put them on the state’s watch list for underachieving schools. However, Hansen said the work the teachers and staff have done at the school since then to bring themselves back to the level where they could be removed from the watch list has been accomplished in two areas: their overall achievement level and their reduction in the achievement gap between the higher- and lower-scoring students.
Hansen said there are three areas that are looked at closely: Socioeconomics (free and reduced priced lunch kids), English language learners and special education students. “We have to show there is a reduction in the gap between their achievement level and regular kids.” It is by doing that, Hansen explained, that a school can be removed from the FOCUS list.
Caliente Elementary has been able to accomplish all of that and maintain a four star rating, so the Department of Education moved the school off the list.
Former school principal Pam Teel began the work in 2011 with the Nevada Comprehensive Curriculum Audit Tool and they brought in an outside consultant, Donna MacKay of Las Vegas, who did an audit of the school curriculum and all the other functions.
Hansen said the audit was so successful for Caliente Elementary, “we later did it for the rest of the school district as well.”
Florence said being removed from the list is “a huge relief. Our teachers were really disappointed when the listing was first announced because they had been a national Blue Ribbon school just before, and to have that come out at the same time really hurt, and we lost some funding and a teaching position.”
School assistant principal and sixth grade teacher Sharon Dirks said what MacKay did in 2013 was use the NCCAT tool as well. This tool helps schools identify priorities for a school needing improvement. “We talked about what our strong points as a school were, what our weak points were, and we sat together with MacKay as a team and devised an action plan of curriculum changes, parent involvement, lesson planning, lesson planning implementation and we discussed in detail each and every area to strengthen the school.”
She explained further the teachers tightened up their lesson plans and keyed more on data assessments to target the individual students.
Dirks said she and the other seven teachers at Caliente Elementary were a bit upset with having to reevaluate their work, after just having been given the Blue Ribbon Award for achievement. “We felt almost beaten down, because we had worked so hard, but now, I have been looking at how much better I am in using the data assessment information. We can specifically target areas the student needs help in. I think we all feel we have become better teachers in terms of data driven instruction.”
Lincoln County now has no schools on the state’s FOCUS list.