By Caroline Blackmon
After failing to achieve accreditation for the fourth year in a row, Enderly Heights Elementary School has partnered with F.W. Kling Jr. Elementary School under a plan to raise scores on the Standards of Learning annual tests.
Enderly is currently ranked 1,075 out of 1,095 public schools in Virginia. The state’s rankings are determined through the Standards of Learning tests. A minimum of 75 percent of students must meet the standards for literacy, and 70 percent for the other areas, on the SOLs to become accredited, Buena Vista Superintendent John Keeler said.
A loss of accreditation shows that a school does not have an assurance of quality education for its students. This means a school will no longer be eligible to receive federal and state financial aid, which is a significant source of funding for many schools.
To address Enderly’s failure, the Buena Vista School Board and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) have created a six-step corrective action plan that will be in effect from the current school year until 2020. They incorporated the plan with the goal of reaching accreditation and making improvements by that time.
Kling Elementary was included in the plan in order to keep the two schools in step, according to Keeler. Because Kling is kindergarten through second grade, the students do not take the SOLs. But since Kling’s students go on to Enderly, which includes third grade through fifth grade, it was made part of the plan.
Keeler said it is truly a comprehensive plan that gets everyone in the schools involved and excited about improvement.
“One of the best things coming out of this is that we meet once a week with Kling and/or Enderly,” Keeler said. “Even though Enderly was the one who didn’t make the benchmark, the state requires that Kling does something too.”
The principals of Enderly and Kling, Troy Clark and Lisa Clark, discussed with the VDOE that the schools should work and come together as one, since Kling is the only public school in Buena Vista that leads into Enderly.
“We have basically looked at teacher lesson plans,” Troy Clark said. “We checked alignment, not only of the SOLs, but also to make sure the lesson plans were aligned.” Clark, who came to Enderly in November, said the next phase of the plan that Enderly will address is different teaching strategies and what works best with each class.
“We’re looking at what we’re doing and seeing if there’s different ways to present the materials or getting our teachers working together and having teachers have a peer review of lessons,” he said.
This is Keeler’s fourth year as superintendent. Last year, Parry McCluer High School gained accreditation after two years of not being accredited. Parry McCluer Middle School also achieved accreditation after four years of not being accredited. Keeler hopes the corrective action plan will allow Enderly and Kling to become accredited and round out the Buena Vista public school system.
But, Keeler said, it’s an “all or none deal” each year, as the SOLs take their course – depending on how a school’s students perform during the testing period, the school also essentially passes or fails. “So that’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes,” he said. And since the outcome is based on one test in the spring, he added, “it can also put a lot of stress and pressure on the students.”
The plan overall has a roadmap design, so every teacher and administrator knows what to accomplish. It is separated into the action being taken, the person who is responsible for it, the timeframe of completion and the paperwork required to show progress.
“We have to overcome some kids that come to us at 5 years old not having had access to books and parents reading to them before school, so we have to play catch-up,” Keeler said.
Kling principal Lisa Clark said the plan was made to meet the needs of students and staff.
“Our teachers lay the foundation. We are the building blocks,” she said in an email. “We have worked together very well to make sure both schools are on the same page and using the same instructional philosophies so that the gains and progress made at Kling are not lost.”
Kling started a program three years ago called the Writer’s Workshop. It starts children off creating stories with pictures and describing those pictures with words. It then works them towards telling the story in full sentences. Clark said she has seen improvement since the program began.
“Kling currently has about 80 percent of its total population on or above grade level in reading,” she said. “When I first started in fall of 2014, only 25 percent of the total student population was on grade level.”
Keeler said the school system will try to expand the writing program into Enderly and the middle school next year.
“I think the day will come when we become one of the better small school divisions in the state,” Keeler said.