Cedar North Elementary adopts school improvement plan

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CEDAR CITY — Rising to the challenge of raising test scores and improving student outcomes at Cedar North Elementary, school administrators recently adopted a “school improvement plan.”

Cedar North Elementary was named a “focus school” by the Utah State Office of Education, according to a press release issued by Utah Title I coordinator Ann White in October. While the office identified “priority schools” as the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools as far as their performance on SAGE testing, a “focus school” is a Title I school in the lowest 5-15 percent in test scoring. Additionally, Title I high schools with a two-year graduation rate of less than 60 percent fall into this category.

An appraisal of the school was conducted by a Salt Lake City consulting firm, Education Direction, to determine how to best help Cedar North Elementary administrators and educators perform at a higher achievement standard.

The appraisal was an in-depth survey that considered four important components, said Carrie Miller, an improvement coach and project manager for the team of consultants that worked the school’s appraisal.

“We had the staff complete a survey,” Miller said, explaining that was the first step in the process. “Then we had a team of individuals from our office on site for several days in January.”

During that time, the team collected qualitative data through interviews with each instructional staff member employed at Cedar North, forming focus groups with students from every grade, parents and support staff.

“There are five categories that the state asks us to look for,” Miller said, “including school cultures, school leadership (and) the actual instruction that’s being used at the school.”

The team also evaluates the curriculum that’s being used at the school and how it connects to the Utah State Core Curriculum, Miller said. The team used the information they gathered to find trends within the school and make recommendations on where the school should focus their next steps.

The format of Cedar North Elementary School has changed considerably in the past four years as the school has taken on a partnership with Southern Utah University to become a dedicated teaching school where student teachers can fulfill their classroom requirements.

Since then, the elementary school has worked to cultivate a STEAM model of learning; meaning the school focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math concepts, often combining several of them into one lesson in hands-on and interactive learning styles.

We were treading new territory,” said Principal Ray Whittier about the new school programming.

Cedar North has a unique approach to education as a partnered STEAM school, Miller said, but uniqueness is part of Education Directions approach as well.

“Regardless of what your focal point is, whether you’re a STEM school or an international baccalaureate school or a dual language school like East (Elementary),” Miller said, “our cornerstone is that (an improvement plan) can really be personalized.”

Education Direct’s appraisal of the school confirmed issues that teachers and administrators were already aware of, Whittier said. For instance, the school’s need to narrow its focus.

“Not necessarily getting rid of programs,” he said, “but more like integrating the focus now — merging all of these different moving pieces together — in particular, ensuring that we can still maintain good instruction while doing Leader and Me partnership and STEAM.”

Being declared a focus school gives Cedar North access to grant monies to help achieve the goals that have been laid out in the improvement plan.

We’re actually going to have resources, including money to pay teachers extra for training and that kind of thing,” Whittier said, explaining that doors have opened for the school to finally get help, successfully structuring a variety of programs that will help to better strengthen partnerships in education.

The improvement plan establishes a support team of nine individuals with a vested interest in the final outcome of its implementation. The plan goes on to outline strengths and weaknesses of the school before offering insight about how to improve. The summary for classroom instruction and student engagement read:

Teachers are collaborating regularly to better align instruction, however frequent changes in school initiatives and priorities hinder teachers’ ability to focus on specific core instructional goals. The leadership will need to narrow the focus so teachers can experience success when implementing new instructional components.

Working with Education Direct is an opportunity that won’t be squandered, Whittier said. As Cedar North Elementary continues to find their foothold on the educational path of their future, the school improvement plan will act as a map to guide them to a successful future, he said.

“We’re kind of excited about it,” Whittier said. “Because now, we’re going to have support to be able to (find our path).”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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