Kemper Elementary spent five years with the lowest state accreditation rating — “turnaround.” This year, parents, teachers and administrators turned it around in a big way, jumping from the lowest level to the “performance” rating, the highest rating an individual school can achieve.
“That’s very unusual,” Principal Jamie Haukeness said. “We’re very proud.”
Haukeness, now in his second year at Kemper, attributed the improvement mostly to a team of teacher leaders, including Kristin Singleton, Sandra Jaburg, Kelly Comisky, Pam Gaasch, Teresa Kraus and Debbie Garner. The group spearheaded the effort to improve student test scores and change the culture and climate at the school in order to improve the rating.
The entire Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 district has been rated as “priority improvement,” but is appealing that rating. The highest rating for a district is an accreditation with “distinction.”
Comisky, who teaches fourth grade, said having the same staff over the last few years was helpful. Singleton, a first-grade teacher, said students and teachers felt empowered and motivated to achieve their goals.
“Everyone was on board, and we gave it 110 percent,” she said.
For the past two years, University of Virginia personnel have worked with Kemper staff on a school turnaround program. This year, the school has entered a third year of the UVA program, which focuses on sustaining the positive practices the school has implemented.
Gaasch, who teaches fifth grade, said teachers and administrators formulate 90-day academic plans based on student data. Those plans are helpful for parents to see what’s going on in the classroom, she said.
“It’s transparent,” Gaasch said. “Parents feel good about what we’re doing.”
Parents helped prepare kids on testing days, even bringing in snacks for students so they were well-fed before the tests begin, Singleton said.
The teachers say the culture of the school has changed in a positive way, and students are excited about coming to school and learning. Gaasch said teachers sat down with students to set achievement goals.
“The kids are invested in their learning,” she said. “They have fun.”
Singleton said the school staff is focused on sustainability, and the next steps for what they need to do tomorrow. With students’ shifts in attitude, the teachers hope they can carry that on as they go through school. Students felt successful after the news of the rating, and they felt they were part of that achievement, Gaasch said.
Teachers and administrators will focus on continuing to improve in the next several years. For now, though, they’re enjoying the positive news.
“You can see the love of learning,” Garner said. “It’s like Disneyland — the happiest place on earth.”