By JEROD CLAPP
NEW ALBANY —
They got something better than that prized gold star, they earned a Blue Ribbon.
Fairmont Elementary School was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education this week as a Blue Ribbon School — which recognizes schools with large populations of at-risk students who are either achieving high scores or seeing big improvement in test scores.
Fairmont is one of 286 schools across the country to earn the recognition. Michelle Day, director of elementary education for the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said the students and staff worked hard to earn the designation, but the staff also makes a personal investment in the students.
“When you go there, they are phenomenal people,” Day said. “They care so much about their kids in that community. The principal has been there her entire career except for one year and it feels like family to her.”
The award goes to schools that have at least 40 percent of their student population on free and reduced lunch. About 91 percent of the school’s population meets the criteria.
Also, more than 20 percent of the students are English Language Learners, with five languages aside from English spoken in its hallways — Spanish, Japanese, Gujarati, Amharic and Urdu.
But in spite of the diverse backgrounds of the students, the scores of the students have been on the rise for the last several years. In 2009, just more than 49 percent of the students passed the English/language arts portion of ISTEP+.
By 2011, those scores soared to about 89 percent passing.
“Our children are at different levels of being ready to learn,” Day said. “We work with all kids and we want all of them to learn at high levels. Some come in ready and others aren’t as ready. When you look at those subgroups, they’re not as ready to learn. That’s not true in every case, but typically, they’re all at different learning levels.”
With students who come in trying to learn English, she said the instructors use a multitude of strategies to help them to gain fluency. She said while technology helps, sometimes taking extra time on even simple lessons helps reach them.
In a press release, NA-FC Superintendent Bruce Hibbard said the school worked hard to make the gains they made in the last few years.
“We are very proud of the students, staff and leadership team,” Hibbard said in the release. “Fairmont was one of the first schools that implemented the three big ideas of a professional learning community. They are focused on learning, collaboration and results. The school community is so deserving of this award.”
Though the school’s ISTEP+ scores slipped back this year, Day said they’ll continue working hard to make sure students are learning.
Day said along with the adoption of district-wide ideas, such as becoming a professional learning community, implementing common formative assessments and other measures, the staff works hard to make sure students are learning what they need to learn.
But she said the uninterrupted blocks of instruction — 90 minutes each for literacy and math — teachers are helping students catch up to their grade level and accelerate beyond that.
“They’re relentless in that they want what’s best for their kids,” Day said. “If they don’t get it the first time, they find another way to teach it. They never give up. That focus on learning wasn’t just about the teaching, it was about what the kids are learning. They’re not at all OK with half their kids passing the state assessment.”
Day said with all the effort the entire school and surrounding community has put in, she’s glad to see the award go to the school.
“We are beyond thrilled and proud of the efforts of the staff, students and families,” Day said. “Fairmont is a wonderful school that is so deserving of this recognition.”