The state annually recognizes the top 5 percent of public schools making academic progress. Statewide, 381 schools received Washington Achievement Awards this spring, including 29 schools in Snohomish County.
The awards recognize general excellence, good test scores in reading, writing, math and science, improved graduation rates, notable progress in large populations of students from low-income families and in schools where the gaps in achievement between disadvantaged students and their peers are closing.
Marysville Middle School got its award for narrowing that gap.
The majority of the school's 865 students are from low-income families. About 40 percent are minorities.
In 2009, only 51 percent of the Marysville Middle's eighth-graders met state standards in reading, the lowest score in the school district. By 2012, 71 percent of eighth-graders met the reading standards. That's a 20 percentage point increase. Likewise, in math, the scores went from 33 percent of eighth-graders meeting state standards in 2009 to 60 percent in 2012, an increase of 27 points.
During the same time, the average scores in the district went up only 3 percentage points in reading and 12 points in math. Statewide, the average was a loss of .3 percentage points in reading and a gain of 5 points in math.
Marysville Middle School Principal Susan Hegeberg is adamant that her teachers "don't teach to the test" to get those results.
Instead, Hegeberg said, it's a matter of focusing on getting kids up to state standards in a rigorous academic environment that includes extra math and reading classes for those who need it. Lessons are made relevant to the students and critical thinking is encouraged. Teachers collaborate on curriculum projects and student behavior problems. Above all, the teachers have a dogged, parentlike concern for students.
The staff at Marysville Middle has worked very hard, said Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller.
"The award for closing the achievement gap is, I believe, one of the most difficult to get," Miller said. "This kind of progress requires the efforts of every staff member to support a school-wide focus on achievement. The entire community should be very proud of this continuing success."
Dana Wojcik has been a science teacher for seven years. She previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry. In her classroom, she calls her students "scientists."
"They take that seriously because they aren't mimics who copy and memorize information. They are mapping the universe and figuring out their gene pool. They absorb the information and come to their own conclusions," Wojcik said. "What we study is real and pertains to their lives."
Tyler Mann teaches language arts. Standardized tests are not scary in this school because the students focus on reading and writing all the time, Mann said.
One of his classes is titled Literacy Lift. The students started the year reading anywhere from a second-grade level to a fifth-grade level. Despite the differences in abilities, the students study the same topics. They read a lot of nonfiction, history and science.
"The school got the award because we read all the time, every day," said student Kailea Warouw, 12. "We challenge ourselves. We get better."
Robert East used to offer science and math to gifted students. Now he teaches a "second dose" math class. East talks about baseball game statistics in order to engage kids who struggle, and he got the kids to learn fractions by helping them make flowerboxes.
"We use math to build stuff," said student Angel Reyes, 12, who made two large planter boxes that are connected by a bench. "It's better than doing math problems from a book."
Working with disadvantaged children is about social justice, East said.
"Many of the teachers here are first-generation high school and college graduates," he said. "We know that learning is about perseverance. And if we don't get to these kids now, it will be much harder for them to break the cycle of poverty."
School volunteer and parent Sandy Leerhoff has watched the improvement at Marysville Middle School.
"The achievement award is well-deserved. I know how hard these teachers work," Leerhoff said. "One of most important changes the school made was starting what they call the Power Period. This advisory time has made a huge difference."
During the first 25 minutes of each day, students get help to finish their homework. They make up tests, organize their work binders and generally get extra attention.
"It's a time when kids take ownership of their work under the teacher's watchful eye," language arts teacher Che-Mai Gray said. "They know I am going to be on them like a mom. I push them to work harder because I care and because failure is not an option. The students know we have their backs."
Gray and her teaching partner Karin Hoover have spent all of their 13-year careers at Marysville Middle. They, too, have seen the progress of the past few years.
"We also got to this point because we are creative and we like to have fun with the kids," Hoover said. "We are generous with praise."
Principal Hegeberg said the job to get scores up at Marysville Middle isn't complete, but she hasn't needed a new staff to offer a new approach at her school.
"In our society we need to build our teachers up," Hegeberg said. "At this school, the teachers have many gifts and talents. We have no money for special programs, but our teachers are allowed creativity and so we work in the arts and other subjects as part of the curriculum."
Eighth-grader Shawn Burton agrees. This week he created a 3-D model of an airplane on the computer. He already knows he wants to go into computer engineering.
"We got the achievement award because the teachers care about the students," Shawn said. "They know what the students need. They want to bring us into the real world."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington Achievement Awards
Everett's schools with overall excellence awards are Cedar Wood and Mill Creek elementaries, which have gifted students; Forest View Elementary, which also got a math award; Silver Lake Elementary, which also received awards in math, science and progress among students from low-income families; Gateway Middle School, which also got a science award; and Heatherwood Middle. Woodside Elementary was recognized in science and Jefferson Elementary was awarded for science and for closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers.
In Mukilteo, Kamiak High School was recognized for overall excellence and math. Mariner High School got a language arts award. Fairmount Elementary received the science award and Columbia Elementary closed gaps in achievement. Odyssey Elementary School* was recognized for overall excellence and science.
In Edmonds, Maplewood Parent Cooperative School was recognized for overall excellence and science. Challenge Elementary received science and math awards. Edmonds Heights was awarded for extended graduation rates. Schools closing the gaps in achievement included Brier*, Edmonds, Meadowdale and Seaview elementaries and Meadowdale Middle, as well as Chase Lake Elementary, which was also recognized for high progress among poor students, an award also received by Hazelwood Elementary.
Marysville Co-op Elementary got the science award and Marysville Middle School was recognized for closing gaps in achievement.
Arlington's Kent Prairie Elementary earned awards in overall excellence and science. Sultan Elementary closed achievement gaps. Hillcrest Elementary in Lake Stevens closed gaps and had high progress among students from low-income families. Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish was recognized for better graduation rates, as was Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe.
Correction: This story originally omitted Odyssey Elementary School and Brier Elementary School from the list of schools receiving awards.
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