News and Tribune

April 24, 2014

Reading into the writing: State superintendent visits Clarksville's Parkwood Elementary

Glenda Ritz on search for schools' strengths

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

CLARKSVILLE — Reading to a preschool class at Parkwood Elementary, Glenda Ritz saw a reflection of some of the changes in school systems across the state — higher populations of free and reduced lunch students, English language learners and students in balanced calendar school systems.

Ritz, state superintendent for public instruction, visited Parkwood and Parkview Middle School on Thursday. She said as she continues her tour of schools across the state, she hopes to get an idea of their strengths and find ways to share those ideas across the state.

“I think what’s in place here at Parkwood is they’ve got a systematic approach to make sure they’ve got enough caring adults to give support to individual students,” Ritz said. “I think that’s what you need to see in a great school that excels.”

Parkwood’s free and reduced population is about 89 percent. About half of its students are learning to speak and read English for the first time and it leads Greater Clark in both of those demographics.

But it’s making high marks on state assessments — in 2012, the school received an A on the state’s A through F grades. Last year, it was a B.

Janice Korfhage, principal, said with so many students who are trying to learn English, they’re doing everything they can to help them along the way.

“You have to have a  very dedicated staff, but you have to be flexible in your approach when you’re dealing with a wide range of abilities in every classroom,” Korfhage said. “That’s why planning is so important for our teachers.”

Ritz said as she walked around the school, the work of teachers and students was evident. Walls in hallways and classrooms had examples of student writing. She said that kind of immersion helps them absorb the information better.

“They have a very robust approach to make sure kids are going to get those connections with the language,” Ritz said. “Seeing all the writing that’s going on and that’s posted around the school, you can tell has a really big emphasis here.”

Greater Clark Superintendent Andrew Melin said as Ritz met with students, teachers, principals and building leadership teams, he hoped she’d get a sense of the strategies his district implements to help students learn.

“I’d like to think that we as a school system have engaged in doing some kind of meaningful interventions for our students,” Melin said. “If she sees something that might be helpful to other school systems, we’d be happy to share. It’s all about doing what’s best for kids.”Ritz said more and more districts are moving to balanced calendar systems. She said it’s nice to see a district use intersession in a way to help students along.

Even though she likes the idea, she said her department’s job isn’t to mandate that sort of thing, but to share the information and let districts use their own implementation of ideas.

“You want to make sure you’re maximizing that individualization you’re giving those students and each school corporation needs to look closely at how to do that best for them,” Ritz said. “This community has decided that’s a priority for them and the balanced calendar kind of shows that and their commitment to having those intersessions. I think that’s probably a flavor of the balanced calendar that should be the reason why you go to a balanced calendar.”