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Davis Elementary School recognized for Individualized Education Programs

Ellie Arseneault, Cherrill Oxenford, Justin White, Lori Elliott and Jeff Kirby , all staff from Davis Elementary, pose with their award.

Davis Elementary School was one of five schools in Iowa awarded the Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award two weeks ago.

Ellie Arseneault, Cherrill Oxenford, Justin White, Lori Elliott and Jeff Kirby , all staff from Davis Elementary, pose with their award.
Ellie Arseneault, Cherrill Oxenford, Justin White, Lori Elliott and Jeff Kirby , all staff from Davis Elementary, pose with their award.

The award, which was created by the Iowa State Board of Education, recognized Davis Elementary for having a proficiency rate for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of 82 percent in reading and math, compared to the statewide average of 43 percent. IEPs, according to the Iowa Department of Education website, are “defined as a written statement for each child with a disability that describes the student’s special educational programs.”

Justin White, a special education teacher at Davis Elementary, said that the school began to make curricular changes after it became a School in Need of Assistance (SINA) in 2010.

“We looked at the data and realized that our scores were not as high as they needed to be,” White said. “That’s when we started to look at our curriculum and decided that new instructional practices needed to be implemented …The SINA process made us ask difficult questions—it didn’t feel good—but that’s what made us make the changes.”

This award is a testament of the Grinnell-Newburg School District’s ability to improve the quality of its schools. Earlier this year as part of Iowa’s 2013 State Report Card for No Child Left Behind, Grinnell-Newburg Middle School was deemed as a SINA under math proficiency. School officials noted that they would be making the necessary curriculum improvements to pull the school out of that status.

According to White, Davis’s curricular changes were built upon a model of “data-driven instruction” that targeted field-specific discrepancies between Davis’s scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and state averages. Third- and fourth-grade students were put in groups according to their skill level to work towards getting higher scores. Among the new programs implemented since 2010 are a 90-minute reading block scheduled into the school day, parent reading nights and the creation of new reading, writing and math programs.

“We’re working really hard to instill a love of reading in our students—so it’s fun and not a task,” White explained. “Students now have a lot more time to do independent reading, but we’re also having them work on skillsets as they read, whether it’s finding the main idea in each paragraph or working on vocabulary words.”

The parent reading night was created last year and had a high turnout.

“Lots of people in the community who didn’t have kids at Davis also attended,” White said. “We had a camping theme, and decked out the school as ‘The Great Outdoors.’ This year we are having a ‘School House Rocks’ theme for February. [And] we realize that we can’t only focus on reading—we’re also looking at math and writing to tap into all academic areas.”

Davis Elementary Principal Jeff Kirby noted that the school works to provide specialized instruction to meet student IEP goals.

“What sets us apart is how we view our students and how we respond to their needs,” Kirby wrote in an email to The S&B. “The progress of our students is a team effort and does not rest on one person’s shoulders, we take pride in that.”

At Davis, special education and general education teachers collaborate regularly to discuss how to meet their students’ social and emotional needs.

“Their discussions include instructional strategies, student response to the core, student progress towards goal areas,” Kirby said.

The award from the Iowa State Board of Education attests to the success of these curricular changes and White hopes that Davis Elementary can continue in this progress.

“I hope that all students are engaged in class and that all students achieve at high levels,” White said. “Our goal is to help students become lifelong learners.”

Principal Kirby is happy for the recognition the award brought for the effort put forth by students and staff alike.

“It is nice that our staff is recognized for the hard work and the positive outcomes that have resulted from changes that they have committed to for our students,” Kirby said. 

Representatives from the Iowa State Board of Education were unavailable for comment.

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