When hard work and dedication result in positive outcomes, what could be more rewarding? Our student outcomes at Wascher Elementary demonstrate that when teacher belief combines with research-based strategies and intentional focus, the possibilities for students are limitless. When I first joined this team five years ago as principal I met a staff of deeply passionate and committed individuals who were working hard for their students. Their love for our students was big, but the task was bigger. Wascher is located in the heart of Oregon’s wine region and our small rural town is a diverse juxtaposition of new growth and an established migrant population, with a significant portion of the community impacted by generational poverty. While our staff was working long hours, we were not seeing the student outcomes that we needed for their future success.
High Expectations, Rapid Growth, and Incredible Outcomes!
We started the shift by changing our own mindset. “The relentless belief that every child has an unlimited capacity to learn”: these have become the words that guide the work at Wascher Elementary. What if our students could achieve more than we could ever imagine? Kids overcome poverty every day; what if we held the belief that each of ours could? With a focus on teaching to the heart and mind of our students, our school has experienced incredible growth in the past four years. We went from a school in danger of failing to a school that is leading in student growth by embracing rigor and joy in our classrooms.
The results were swift and exceptional. In a period of two years we went from the lowest 25% growth percentile in our state to the top 10%, with our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade student groups scoring well above state average in both English language arts and math. We are exceptionally proud of our students who struggle with obstacles like poverty, disabilities, and language because they too have been above state average—often by double digits—in all areas for two years in a row.
Our teachers are pretty incredible too. They believe that high expectations for all students, coupled with a supportive school climate that embraces growth mindset, allows students to soar to new heights. Our staff works very hard to make teaching and learning a positive, empowering, emotionally supportive experience for students. These results affirm for us that strong instruction in a nurturing environment creates an opportunity for incredible outcomes for our kids.
Our Biggest Takeaways from This Experience?
- Leveraging student outcomes is about both the hearts and minds of students. If we have joy but no rigor we have missed the target; if we have rigor but no joy we have missed it too. It's about doing both well, with intentionality and focus.
- The magic bullet for school improvement is focusing and digging deep on practices supported by research. It’s often not about doing more things that are different, but choosing your initiatives well and going deep with implementation.
- We have changed outcomes for students in a high-poverty (60%), rural school with 30% EL learners. If we can do it, other districts can too!
All too often in education we talk about pendulum swings and put ourselves in the situation of choosing one initiative over another. Don’t be fooled by a false dichotomy. The answer rarely is one thing over another; the answer frequently is BOTH. We must support rigorous learning in our classrooms while also promoting social emotional growth to launch our students into a future of limitless possibilities. They must leave our buildings knowing how to think deeply, problem solve well, and connect to one another in ways that will foster community.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
Dr. Vytas Laitusis
Education Research Director, Supplemental & Intervention Math