For 99 schools across Washington state, it’s an honor five years in the making.
The 2011 School of Distinction award winners include 53 elementary schools, 22 middle/junior high schools, 17 high schools and seven alternative schools. And two of those come from the : and .
In order to win a School of Distinction award, student achievement at a school must improve over a five-year period. Additionally, that improvement in math and reading must be in the highest five percent across the state in comparison to other schools at the same level.
Hudtloff is among the 102 schools in the state to receive the award more than once, having previously won it in 2009. It is the only “repeat winner” from CPSD.
Principal Moureen David said that her staff is both surprised and excited to win twice in three years.
“It is pretty amazing that we have continued to make enough growth to continue to be in that five percent,” she said, adding that Hudtloff also won a similar award in 2010 for academic achievement.
David credited her staff for Hudtloff’s successes, calling them “really amazing.” The vast majority of faculty members put in extra hours – over the weekend or late at night.
“They’re very committed to figuring out how to help kids learn to be successful learners and really prepare them for high school and college,” she said.
David, who is in her ninth year as principal, said that it is difficult to name one specific key to her school’s academic success, but that her staff employs a forward thinking approach. Instead of focusing on achievement at a “base level,” Hudtloff’s teachers are constantly thinking about how to get their students ready for high school and college.
“A couple of years ago, for a time, it was about meeting standard on MSP (Measurement of Student Progress exam), and we worked really hard on that,” she said. “But once we started to figure that out, we realized that we were ready to start preparing kids for the big things like AP classes and getting into college.”
As a result of the transition, “learning in the classroom is much more engaging now because teachers are thinking more in-depth.”
Beachwood principal Josh Zarling is actually no stranger to the School of Distinction award. He was an assistant principal at Hudtloff when it won in 2009.
Now in his third year at the elementary school on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he told his staff, “‘If Hudtloff is going to do it, we’re going to do it’, and we did it in two years by being focused on student achievement.”
Still, Zarling said that the win came as a surprise. He has been watching his school’s growth, but was expecting to be honored next year.
“We have had a lot of growth and the school has changed quite a bit,” he said. “We have been working really hard, so it is nice to be recognized for the teachers’ and students’ efforts.”
Zarling said that making the biggest difference is that Beachwood’s staff focuses on teacher collaboration and “intentional planning,” which is teaching each lesson in accordance with learning standards. The staff sits down every other week as grade-level teams and brainstorms how to focus on the areas in which students are struggling.
“It’s really about knowing what the students need to be able to know at the end and planning backward and using understanding by design for lesson planning,” he said. “We have a focus on making thinking visible.
“In the past, we had focused on work versus learning, and this year we are focused on student engagement.”
Zarling admitted that there are added challenges to student achievement on a military base with a high turnover rate and a quick transition rate for new kids. Beachwood currently has 460 students enrolled, and he said they tend to lose students every three years – most of whom are meeting standard on the MSP.
“We find that the new students don’t always perform as well on the MSP so we’re really focused on trying to get them in there, and then ready and learning and understanding, and go from there.”
Zarling said that when he took over as principal, he would hear from military parents that Beachwood wasn’t as challenging as their previous schools in other states.
He added that this year, “We’re hearing, ‘your school is far too hard for our child.’ It’s a shift. They’ll get there, move forward, and learn. The teachers are really focused and getting more intentional at teaching the standards.”
There has also been a fair amount of transition for teachers – 17 moved to teaching something new within the school this school year, and Zarling said that the teamwork is evident and that his staff “is becoming, and are, excellent teachers, and they’re constantly improving.”
Regarding change, he said, “I don’t shy away from it.
The School of Distinction award is given by The Center for Educational Effectiveness; Association of Educational Service Districts; Association of Washington School Principals; Phi Delta Kappa-Washington Chapter; Washington Association of School Administrators; Washington State ASCD and Washington State School Directors’ Association.
An award ceremony will be held Dec. 7 for the 36 winning schools in the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which serves King and Pierce Counties and Bainbridge Island.