Jemtegaard Middle School has been named as one of 218 state-recognized schools for the 2017-18 school year by state education leaders.
“People are starting to see what we’re doing. That’s really important,” said JMS principal David Cooke. “We haven’t always been front and center because we haven’t had the overall high test scores, but a lot of great work has happened.”
The award honors schools that showed significant improvement on standardized test scores during the 2017-18 school year.
Cooke said the awards gave Jemtegaard educators “validation for trusting the process.”
The Washington State Board of Education, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee recognized the Washougal school’s achievement at a June 6 ceremony in Olympia, Washington. The Washougal School Board followed by honoring Jemtegaard at a June 6 board meeting, and an all-school assembly completed the award ceremonies on June 12.
The state honored Jemtegaard, a school in which 45 percent of students are from low-income families, for two categories: “Closing Gaps” for showing substantial improvement among the school’s low-performing student groups and “Growth” for making annual gains in the state’s school improvement measurements.
“The work is not easy. It’s complex. Every day counts,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said at the June 11 school board meeting. “But when you stick with it, have perseverance, grit, determination, passion for the kids and their success, what you get, on the other side, thankfully, is some recognition.”
Last year, the WSBC, OSPI and EOGOAC reorganized their school recognition system to align with changes brought about by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability system and the desire of the organizations to make their system more equitable, according to the WSBE website.
“In the past, the state made 450 awards in seven categories to nearly 300 schools,” the website states. “Most awards went to schools with lower than average free- and reduced-lunch rates in the Puget Sound region, and many schools received multiple awards. The SBE, OSPI and EOGOAC all agreed that a change was needed.”
JMS, which has a 45-percent free- and reduced-lunch population, according to Cooke, was tabbed in two categories: “Closing Gaps,” for schools previously identified for ESSA support with low-performing student groups that showed substantial improvement; and “Growth,” for schools making annual gains on Washington School Improvement Framework (WISF) measures and meeting gap reduction requirements.
According to statistics provided by Jemtegaard, 58 percent of the school’s sixth-graders passed the state’s English language arts examination in 2016-17. The following year, 71 percent of those same students passed the test. Likewise, eighth-graders showed English language arts gains, with 58 percent passing in 2016-17 and 74 percent passing in 2017-18.
In math, 51 percent of JMS sixth-graders passed the examination in 2016-17, with 59 percent of the same students passing the next school year. Sixty percent of JMS eighth-graders passed the test in 2017-18, a nine-percent increase from the previous year.
The Washougal middle school’s improvement contrasts against the performances shown at other Washington middle schools, which saw minimal increases, stagnation or decreases during the same time period.
“When the rest of the state is going down, we’re going up,” Cooke said.
The school has benefitted from new curriculums such as Language Arts Amplify and Illustrative Math; the implementation of consistent instruction in all three of its grade levels; and the efforts of instructional coaches Cheryl MacIntyre and Tiffany McCormick, according to Cooke.
“(They’ve) done great work focusing on the data and getting everyone on the same page,” he said.
Cooke said he realized that the school needed to make changes four years ago after examining the students’ math scores, which were lower than he had hoped they’d be.
“You feel like you failed the kids. You tried all these things and they didn’t work,” he said. “(You have to put) your ego aside and say, ‘We need to do something different,’ and get teachers on board with it. It was a lot of work, but it was also very humbling to say, ‘What we’re doing isn’t working.’ We had to change.”
Going forward, Jemtegaard staff members will focus on continued improvement for “kids who are struggling academically and behaviorally,” Cooke said, with a focus on English-language learners and special education students.
“I think it’s nice to enjoy this award, but we also have to say, ‘There’s still a lot of kids who still aren’t passing.’ We need to keep going,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, yes, but we’re still in the tunnel.”