On a typical day at Flynn Elementary School, students spend an intensive half-hour practicing skills they’re struggling to learn. Whether it’s math, reading comprehension or writing, that slice of time in the school day aims to help counteract specific skill deficits in students.
While it’s a daily regimen at all Eau Claire elementary schools, Flynn’s principal, Adam Keeton, pointed to its success at his school as one driving force behind the institution’s recent designation as a National Blue Ribbon School.
“In the world of public education, it’s really one of the most coveted, sought-after-without-seeking-it-out awards you can earn,” Keeton said, noting that districts can’t apply to be considered for the award. “That makes it even more humbling. They came to us because we’re doing some pretty good work here.”
The award program, started in 1982, identifies and awards schools that fall under one or both of two categories. “Exemplary high performing” schools are those with their state’s highest graduation rates and students in the top 15 percent in English and math. The next category, “exemplary achievement gap closing,” focuses on schools that have made the greatest advancements in closing subgroup achievement gaps in English and math over the previous five years, according to the organization’s website.
Flynn fell under the second category, meaning its award designation signifies success in easing disparity in academic performance between groups of students. The school will be honored at a November awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“What we try to do is make sure that all students can succeed at high levels,” Keeton said of his school’s mission. “We make sure that any of our student groups, whether it be gender, students of color, low socioeconomic status, we make sure that we provide any and all resources necessary for our students to be successful.”
Other schools in Eau Claire to earn the distinction were Memorial High School in 1983 and Longfellow Elementary School in 2011.
The U.S. Department of Education works in conjunction with state agents that oversee public education — the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction here — to examine state test scores as the basis for award nominees. Nominees then submit an application with a description of their school and educational practices.
A large portion of the state data used in the scoring is the DPI’s annual Accountability Report Cards, a scoring system that began in 2011.
Data from those report cards show that Flynn has steadily improved over the years, especially when it comes to closing achievement gaps. In the 2011-12 academic year, Flynn scored 49.4 out of 100 possible points. That’s compared with the state’s overall score of 65.7 that same year.
Fast forward to 2016-17, and Flynn scored 95.3.
In Flynn’s application form after receiving notice of its nomination for the award, writers explain that extending the school year by providing before- and after-school programs and summer school has helped students maintain momentum.
Schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said Flynn’s success in closing achievement gaps is a trend among elementary schools in the district.
“(The award) is indicative of the kind of work and quality of work that’s taking place around the district,” Hardebeck said, “especially in the elementary schools ... We believe wholeheartedly that Flynn is representative of all our elementary schools.”
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