By Alexandra Cline
Mr. Charles – as students like to call their school’s custodian – does a lot more than maintain the immaculate halls of Mountain View Elementary School. On any given day, he’ll be celebrating with students who received A’s on spelling tests or giving them a hug if they’ve had a tough week.
During his more than 40 years there, Charles Bartlett has seen generations of students pass through the 100-year-old school. Bartlett said interacting with students at Mountain View is not a job – it’s one of his greatest joys.
Principal Lori Teague, who attended Mountain View as a student, sees employees like Bartlett as the reasons why Mountain View – a small school with a picturesque backdrop – is one of the best in the country. Its scenic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and quiet valley setting are perhaps the only features that could rival students’ academic success there.
Mountain View was recently selected as a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School for exemplary performance – one of only seven schools in Virginia. The announcement from the U.S. Department of Education came only about a week before the school celebrated its 100th anniversary on Oct. 7.
Teague attributed much of Mountain View’s success to the culture of trust and genuine support among students, parents and teachers. Growing up in the county, she knows that parents here can often be uncomfortable talking to administrators – especially if school was not a positive memory for them.
“We’re just normal people,” Teague said. “I don’t care what you look like. You can come in wearing your work uniform…I just try to make sure we have an open door, even if you’re upset about something.”
Mountain View’s academic success, by the numbers
In the classroom, teachers also collaborate with one another as often as possible to ensure that every student is adequately prepared for the next grade level, not simply passed from one teacher to the next.
Meg Peters, a kindergarten teacher who has worked at Mountain View for more than 20 years, sees the other teachers as part of her family – any of whom she could call at 3 a.m. if she ever needed anything.
“We depend on each other, and we help each other,” Peters said. “We give up our breaks and planning periods, and we’re always trying to find new ways of helping children.”
In the past school year, Mountain View boasted a 100 percent overall pass rate in reading and math for all of its students, including those who are considered economically disadvantaged.
In Rockbridge County as a whole, the pass rates for reading and math were 76 percent and 79 percent, respectively. For economically disadvantaged students, the rates were several percentage points lower in both categories, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
Overcoming the unchangeable obstacles
Though Mountain View’s scores substantially exceed those of other area schools, Teague said that her school faces many of the same challenges. Among them is students’ lack of classroom experience prior to kindergarten and difficult home lives.
“These students aren’t coming in any more prepared than students at other schools,” Teague said.
More than half live in poverty. Fifty-two percent qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Teague said while she can’t control students’ lives outside the classroom, she doesn’t let that lower her expectations for student performance. Instead, she said she prefers to focus on how students learn and how hard they work from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. every week day.
According to Mountain View’s teachers, that hard work is especially crucial in the early elementary years – often the first years that their students are exposed to reading. To track the students’ progress, the school tests those in grades K-2 using a Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening. The test asks kids about letter sounds, word concepts and alphabet recognition.
At the kindergarten level, 100 percent of Mountain View students exceeded the test’s benchmark, up from the 86 percent of students who met or exceeded the benchmark in 2014. Though most teachers would be content with all students simply meeting the benchmark, Mountain View’s teachers have set the bar much higher and expect students to surpass the minimum mark.
“It’s all about repetition, once I can balance where they are and see what they need,” Peters said. “We work with these children as much as they need. We really do follow that ‘no child left behind’ idea.”
Looking beyond the numbers
For many students and parents, Mountain View is even more than an academically successful school – it’s a community that’s been part of their lives for generations.
Dylan Fix, a parent of three Mountain View students, said her husband and several of his family members also attended the school. According to her, Mountain View is a place where the relationship between students and teachers is similar to that between parents and their children.
“My husband went to school here, and his parents, and his grandparents,” Fix said. “I think it’s the community that makes this school unique. It’s not just a place. It’s the kids’ second home.”