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Sugar Bush Elementary earns state honors

Sugar Bush Elementary School is one of 65 schools in Wisconsin to br recognized for student achievement and academic progress.

This year’s Wisconsin Reward Schools include 55 elementary schools, four high schools, five charter schools, and one intermediate school. Rewards schools received a certificate of achievement signed by the state superintendent. Next fall, the Wisconsin Title I Schools of Recognition and Reward Schools programs will be combined.

As part of Wisconsin’s federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver request, the Department of Public Instruction is required to identify Title I schools that are among the highest achieving in the state and those that have the most significant improvement in student achievement from one year to the next.

Title I is a federal program to support schools serving low-income students.

Schools received recognition as High-Achieving or High-Progress, with nine schools earning both designations. Sugar Bush Elementary earned the High-Progress designation.

To be recognized, schools first must receive Title I aid because they have significant numbers of students from low-income families based on federal free- and reduced-price school meal income guidelines. All reward schools must have minimal achievement gaps on statewide assessments or show evidence of reducing gaps between student groups. Additionally, reward schools must meet the state’s test participation, attendance, and dropout goals.

“We put a lot of focus on reading and math at Sugar Bush Elementary,” said Principal Kristin Grable, who is in her eighth year at the school. “It took many years to build up, going back to the years before I arrived here. A foundation was built, and we are now seeing progress.”

Grable explained that the school strives to look at individual needs, one student at a time.

“We have 32 fourth graders. One student accounts for a large percentage when you look at our test scores,” said Grable. “We’ve built in collaborations and in-service times for staff members so that we can continue to learn better ways to work with each individual student.”

Student progress is being tracked on a “data wall” in Grable’s office. The color-coded system features a card for each student. As the student progresses in their reading skill level, the card is moved accordingly. The ultimate goal is to get each student to the level of achievement desired for each grade level, as outlined by state and federal standards.

“We are now using new reading level goals derived from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS),” said Grable. “We’ve been seeing greater advances since we began monitoring student progress with the data wall.”

Reading Resource Teacher Tom Gauerke has played a key role in seeing those advancements come to fruition. Gauerke has worked with Grable and Kathy Gwidt, Director of Teaching and Learning for the School District of New London, to develop intervention blocks that target struggling students. These intervention blocks are 30 minutes long, and are targeted to individual student needs.

Students are ranked by staff members according to their skill level, and then intervention strategies are assigned for the needs of those students.

Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is being used to help students who are struggling with literacy concepts.

“When we first implemented LLI, we realized that we needed to work with the classroom teachers to put the power back in their hands and allow them to be a key part of the intervention strategies,” said Gauerke. “As we work on that, students will have more opportunities to advance their skills. Teachers can observe an LLI lesson before jumping right into it, which helps them familiarize themselves with the concepts.”

Parent support is another key element of the schools success in reading and math advancements.

“Not all parents are happy to hear that their child needs extra help, but we have to promote these programs as positive efforts,” said Grable. “The whole idea is to provide a system that allows all students to get the most and the best instruction possible.”

Gwidt said the success seen at Sugar Bush Elementary has been a collaborative effort.

“Some of the progress is due to management and organization of programming, but much more is attributed to the efforts of our staff, students, and families,” said Gwidt. “Success has been contagious.”

The school has organized several events that are both fun and educational for students in order to accomplish success, including a Buddy Reading Program, afternoon events, a book swap, Fang’s Reading Program, and several other activities.

“The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) has been incredibly helpful in boosting our literacy efforts,” Grable commented. “They have made a huge commitment to providing books for every student.

They also help provide magazines, reader notebooks, periodicals, classroom libraries, and have also helped us purchase six iPads with literacy apps that travel from classroom to classroom. The whole key is to read, read read – and the PTO has helped make that possible for all students.”

Grable said the school applies strategies to math instruction that are quite similar to the reading instruction efforts.

“We have a number of coaching concepts and other math programs to help students,” stated Grable. “We also have Title I nights for parents to visit and see more of what we’re doing to help students.”

Response to Intervention (RTI) has been key to math skills advancement at the school.

RTI provides for 90-minute math blocks. Intervention blocks are infused within the math block which target students’ needs. These blocks allow for personalized instruction and various break-out groups.

“We are excited to see our next School Report Card,” said Grable. “We’ve made some great gains, and it’s nice to have that recognized; but we still want to just take one student at a time and help them as much as we can.”

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