The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently released report cards for every school in the state, reporting test scores from the 2018-19 school year. When Dieter Waite, principal at Heppner Elementary School, shared results with school staff, he had some good news to report. The ELA (English Language Arts) score showed that 63% of Heppner Elementary students were meeting the standard, an increase of 13% from the year before, and well above the Oregon state average of 51%. Math scores also increased by 5% to 43%, just above the state average of 42%.
In addition, the school went from average to high in Individual Student Progress, which measure year-to-year progress in ELA and math. “I told my staff to keep up the good work. I am excited about our changing school culture and academic growth,” Waite said.
Although Waite was pleased with the steady academic growth of students, he was concerned about the slight drop in Regular Attenders, students who attended more than 90% of their enrolled school days. Heppner Elementary 2018-19 average was 81%, down 1% from the previous year. However, Waite already has many strategies in place to combat this.
Using the “Every Day Matters” program, which focuses on the importance of steady attendance at school, Waite said staff have increased communication with families of struggling students, modifying past processes and scheduling regular team meetings to discuss the needs and support in place for these students. Waite sends a monthly letter to parents whose children are at or below 90% attendance. He includes in the letter that a student with 90% attendance misses an entire school year by the time they complete 9th grade.
Waite understands that a crucial aspect of steady attendance is ensuring children and their families have appropriate support services. Heppner Elementary administrators and staff are strengthening community partnerships in Wraparound services, working with CARE coordinators to increase access to medical, dental and community social services for students and families. Eliminating some roadblocks that cause students to miss school, Waite said, can make a difference.
Further implementation of Conscious Discipline has also improved the school climate, Waite said, plus the school is going to get a Student Success Coach/School Counselor shared half time with Heppner Jr/Sr High.
But more than strategies and numbers, Waite knows that forming connections with students is the most important thing staff can do. “The bottom line is that students need to feel safe and supported by the adults in the building every day to achieve success.”
Recently, an Educational Assistant, Darcee Mitchell, had a great idea to emphasize school family, having students give input for a “Word Poster” encompassing student ideas. The poster hangs prominently in the school, a reminder they are all in this together.