Thorndyke Elementary School has been honored as a 2015 School of Distinction for being in the top 5 percent in the state for sustained growth in language arts and math. Thorndyke joins an elite group of only 90 schools across the state (51 elementary schools) to earn the award.
“I’m so proud,” said Thorndyke Principal Kathy Page. “This is one of the hardest working staffs I have ever seen in over 15 years of being a principal. They are continually searching for ways to reach students, thinking outside of the box. They take to heart the unique needs of each student, and it shows.”
With a student population that is 83 percent in poverty, 50 percent English Language Learners, and 20 percent homeless/housing insecure, Thorndyke educators’ do much more than teach the curriculum. “They look at everything, which means being in tune to meeting even the basic needs of students,” Page said. That often includes food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and transportation, she added.
Page took over this year for long-time Thorndyke principal Brian Hutchison, who led the school during the period of growth recognized by the School of Distinction award. During that time, the school began many intentional, student-focused initiatives that are continuing this year with added emphasis.
Educators at every grade level frequently come together in Professional Learning Communities to analyze data and create support plans for specific students. Thirty minutes every school day is designated for literacy and math intervention for each child—students receive instruction that matches their exact need, whether they are excelling or struggling. Thorndyke also identifies students for additional before- and after-school academic services, which have been strengthened this year with more effective intervention tools.
In and out of the classroom, staff members recognize that positive, caring relationships with students are the foundation for learning. Using a system called Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), the school last year began analyzing discipline data and working to get to the root of what’s actually causing students to act up. They have also started proactive and fun campaigns to “beat the bell” (resulting in a 30 percent decrease in tardies last month), to clearly define behavior expectations, to highlight and reward a new virtue every month, and to catch students when they are being role models rather than misbehaving.
“It’s all about relationships,” Page said. “All the research shows that we need to connect to kids to increase their engagement behaviors, and that’s what we have been doing.”
Tukwila Superintendent Nancy Coogan said she is “exceptionally proud” of Thorndyke.
“Our students come to us from every corner of the globe, with a vast array of backgrounds and educational experiences,” Coogan said. “Our learning goals do not include a uniform bar of achievement. We aim for more than a year’s worth of growth for each student during the school year. So to be recognized as the top in the state for growth is a phenomenal honor, directly in line with our strategic plan.”
The School of Distinction awards are based on five years of student performance improvement on state assessments in language arts and math. They are sponsored by the Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE) in partnership with the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), The Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP), Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), and the Washington Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (WASCD).
Dr. Rich McBride, Superintendent of the North Central ESD in Wenatchee and leading this work as President of the AESD leaders group stated, “In a year of unprecedented change across our state with new Common Core State standards and new Smarter Balanced Assessments, it is cause for celebration to see so many schools rising to these challenges and causing great improvement for our students. This award process highlights our need to continue to support improvement efforts of our schools and the dedicated and talented leaders and staffs that make this kind of increased student achievement happen. Our congratulations to the staff, students, leaders, and communities across our state for their exceptional efforts in service to our students.”
Thorndyke staff were honored in January during an awards ceremony at the Puget Sound Educational Service District.