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Alex Judd is the Executive Director of Elementary Education for Provo City School District. His job is to provide support for grade school principals and to review concerns and goals with them. Provo Elementary schools go the extra mile to engage and keep students on the path to graduation. To do this, grade level teachers are striving to make sure that their students are mastering the concepts necessary to successfully move up to the next grade level. Judd says, “every school has been given the charge to identify from kindergarten through sixth grade the acquisition specific knowledge and skills that are required to say that they are ready for the next grade level.” Through creating preschool resources, monitoring student success and collaborating with principals, our elementary education department is ensuring that the desire and ability for high school graduation begins as early as possible.
Kindergarten is one of the most crucial grades for student success. According to Alex Judd, “when you say ‘how are we going to ensure that a child graduates?’ it doesn’t start in 12th grade, it starts in Kindergarten.” If students are not at or above the standards for Kindergarten, they will continue to fall increasingly behind in their following grade level. One of the best ways to prepare a child for Kindergarten is to have them attend preschool so that they can begin to learn core concepts and establish vital social skills necessary for Kindergarten. Provo City School District realizes, however, that not all families have access or the resources necessary to send their children to a preschool. By creating four preschools, which are attached to various elementary schools, the district strives to bridge this gap and provide families with the opportunity to send their children to preschool. Judd says, “we have created preschools in some of our elementary schools with some Title 1 funds to give those low-income families, or families that do not have access to a lot of different resources, the leg-up.” This helps ensure the child’s successful road to graduation, as they begin kindergarten prepared with the core concepts that they have learned, and with other crucial skills that would not have been as easily obtained elsewhere. Judd says, “if we can give them more opportunities, those students will have the resources they will need to close the gap.”
Monitoring Student Success
Each Provo City School District teacher is determined to help their students succeed, including those students who may need more assistance than others. Our elementary schools focus on three main areas: attendance, behavior and academics. When a student is struggling in one of these areas, the teacher seeks to target the real issue and makes a plan to further assist the student in the way they need. Judd says, “even if a student is scoring high in ¾ of their skills, but low in 1/4 — that would be an indicator that a student is not where we want him/her to be and we need to intervene. Even though on paper the student looks good, as a teacher I am looking at this and saying ‘they do not have all of their phonics skills that I know they should have and if they don’t get that fixed right now, it is probably not going to hurt them for their main score, but next year it could be their downfall’ and they could continue to fall further behind.”
The principals monitor which students are struggling and have a record of what strategies teachers are utilizing to ensure that child’s success. The student’s progress is measured by the beginning, middle and end of the year assessments. For many students, there is significant progress. However, when a student is not progressing, the teacher and the principal are able to see that and make adjustments to the strategies being used. When needed, all of the elementary schools have an “at risk” team, which is comprised of teachers, administration, the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support coach, the school psychologist, special education, social worker, a truancy officer and occasionally a school resource officer. This team changes based on the specific needs of a student. The team works together to determine what the child needs and how to best help them. Their goal is to understand why the behavior is happening and make an action plan based on that information.
To take it a step further, Judd is helping to facilitate collaboration with the secondary schools and sharing progress of struggling sixth graders with the middle school they will attend the following year. This allows the middle school teachers and administration to get know the student’s struggles and be informed of what strategies have been successful for this student.
Collaboration With Principals
Keeping track of student progress has been a positive strategy and collaboration with these statistics has also proved to be beneficial. Elementary school principals from Provo City School District meet together once a month to share positive ideas that will benefit each school. Together they analyze each school’s academic data and share what strategies they are using to catalyze the successful percentages. Alex Judd discussed how these principals will look at one school’s high literacy percentages, for example, and ask what specific strategies they are using to achieve those high literacy percentages. They will then consider using those same successful strategies in their own school.
The principals also collaborate through sharing their Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) expectations. Each school has their own unique PBIS expectations that correlate with their school’s demographics and needs. Judd describes this: “each school should be working to create expectations throughout the school that are positively taught and reinforced throughout the school.” The point of utilizing PBIS is to be proactive, rather than reactive. If students become aware of what behavior is expected, they are more likely to behave positively. Principals discuss their own PBIS systems and can help other school’s obtain great improvement ideas or get assistance with how to make their PBIS more prosperous. These schools blossom as they collaborate with each other to create success in their own school. Judd says, “They start becoming their own best friends in sharing ideas, data and opportunities.”
Elementary school is a vital time to start motivating students towards graduation. There becomes an increasing sense of urgency over all of the schools to do more for education. Judd emphasizes that “there is an urgency across all elementary schools to do more, to make sure that they are tracking, reporting out and giving feedback to the superintendent.” By identifying student struggles early on, it allows teachers more time to intervene and ensure that the child gets the positive education that they deserve.
Through creating preschool resources, monitoring student success and collaborating with principals, our school district is ensuring that the desire and ability for graduation begins as early as possible.