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Teaching As A Team

Marylin Avenue Elementary School has made great strides the past five years by changing how they teach.

In the teachers' lunch room at there is a "data wall" that tracks every student.

It's a color-coded list that shows how each pupil is doing in every subject, whether the students are proficient in English and how much they have progressed.

The wall is one of many tools that have emerged from an effort begun in 2005 to improve education at the school.

The result? The school has raised its Academic Performance Index score from 655 to 796.

The percentage of students proficient in math has leaped from 28 percent to 68 percent.

The percentage of students proficient in English language arts has gone from 24 percent to 45 percent.

"This school has a system that has been a model for the district," said Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Cindy Alba. "We're very proud of what's happened here."

Marylin Avenue Elementary isn't necessarily the kind of school associated with high achievement.

The K-5 campus has 485 students. Of those, 76 percent are Hispanic or Latino. More than 80 percent of the pupils qualify for government-assisted lunch programs.

In addition, 64 percent are English language learners, meaning another language is primarily spoken in their home.

Many of the families live in the duplexes, garages and small homes that surround the school.

"It's been a lot of work," said Principal Jeff Keller, "but it all began when we started to learn together."

The principal and teachers say they have laser-like focus on their goals because they feel their students are more at risk than those at other schools. Pupils who don't do well here are in danger of dropping out in high school or joining a gang.

"There is a shared mission here. It's something we take seriously," said Keller. "There is a definite sense of urgency here. It's much like how an emergency room operates."

The turnaround is credited to a simple shift in philosophy and approach.

Instead of being isolated in a classroom, the school's 27 teachers work as a team.

Squads of them go to conferences together. They visit similar schools in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Fresno.

They make decisions together at the grade level as well as schoolwide.

An idea that is successful in one classroom is shared with other teachers.

"Classrooms are no longer islands," said Noah King, a third-grade teacher.

As an example,he noted that Kerry Barger was using a new language arts teaching method in her combination first- and second-grade class. Once other instructors heard about it, they started using it.

"All of a sudden, a fire was ignited," said King.

The shared learning has created a team atmosphere that extends throughout campus. Eric Kishi said he and his fellow fifth-grade teachers, Anna MacIntire and Sue Carling, each have 20 students in their class, but they feel like they each have 60.

"All the teachers work together," said Keller. "Every student here is considered by every teacher here to be their student."

That's where the "data wall" in the lunch room comes in.

So do the stations in the hallway to which teacher aides bring small groups of students for one-on-one instruction.

"We want to prepare every single child to be successful in the 21st century," said Keller.

At the classroom level, the teaching is more focused and immediate.

Standardized tests are used, but they are only one part of the matrix.

Marylin Avenue Elementary students know what goals they are supposed to achieve. They have benchmarks they need to hit three times a year.

All students are asked to give answers during class and feedback is given on the spot.

"If you're a baseball player and you're having trouble with your swing, you want your coach to give you feedback immediately," said Keller.

The school was remodeled six years ago with school bond money.

And it receives $303,000 a year from the state-administered Quality Education Investment Act. It has been receiving the money since 2007 and expects to receive it for four more years.

The main purpose of the money is to reduce class size. Kindergarten through third-grade classes at the school have 20 students per teacher. The fourth and fifth grades have 25 students per instructor.

Teachers say the reduced class size definitely helps, but it's not the key.

"It's harder in a larger classroom," said King, "But if you have a smaller classroom and you're not teaching the right way, then it's not going to make a difference."

The principal believes enough in the system to take it to a personal level. Keller, who lives in Pleasanton, has enrolled his two sons at Marylin Avenue Elementary.

"No school is quite like this one," said Alba, "But it has shown that this method can work anywhere."

Anne March 28, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Congratulations to every member of the Marylin Avenue School team! Thank you to the teachers, principal and staff for your hard work and dedication to your students. Ultimately, children across the district benefit from the strategies put into place on this campus.
Sonya March 29, 2011 at 03:01 AM
Congrats to the Marylin Ave School team! My daughter is a 1 st grader there and the teachers and the staff are AWESOME :)

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