13 January 2010 Carlson Elementary

Good Things Happening at Carlson Elementary

Feel-good stories are like puppies: Nearly everyone loves them.

Carlson Elementary is one of those feel-good stories. Back in the fall of 2007, the news from and about Carlson was far from uplifting. While King-Murphy was taking steps to implement the International Baccalaureate program and Georgetown Community School was getting its footing, Carlson seemed adrift.

Enter principal Marcia Jochim, former principal at King-Murphy who is now in her second year at Carlson.

“I have been very impressed with the collaboration among the staff and their positive interaction with Marcia,” says Superintendent Bill Patterson. “There is an enthusiasm and sense of shared support that is critical in any excellent school.”

It is to the staff Jochim gives considerable credit for the cultural change at Carlson. “We have a terrific group of teachers, 80 percent of whom have master degrees,” she proclaims. “As a result of that and little turnover, we have a staff with considerable expertise.”

She points to the Caring Adult Program in which 12 percent of the students have an extra-special relationship with an adult in the building. “Teachers identify kids in need of mentoring who might have fallen through the cracks in the traditional way of identifying them,” she says.

The Homework Club, which had 36 students enrolled in the first semester, is one way of connecting with kids and helping them succeed. “The kids like doing their homework with their friends and in study groups,” Jochim states. “We’re planning for even more participation during the second semester.”

A major after-school tutoring emphasis is on reading. Jochim says that if funds allow, she might be able to bring in more adults from the outside to be part of the program. Those funds would come from a Title I grant that has helped the school move from a pull-out program to a school-wide one due to the percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

“Kate Foy has a cadre of four paraprofessionals to go into the classrooms. Each hour a different grade level has an extra person come in and work with students in small groups of two to four using visualizing, verbalizing, phonics and writing.

“Another tutoring program just for sixth-graders,” she adds, “is provided by volunteers from the Rock House.”

Perhaps more important, Jochim gives credit to the kids. “Their resilience and taking responsibility for their learning has been the key.”

Jochim talks of how every student sets his/her goals and how periodically the class joins a Goal Celebration. “The students take the NWEA — Northwest Evaluation Association — test three times annually, which then serves as a starting-point base. Then they set goals based on that. It gives them more ownership and buy-in to the testing process.”

It began with one grade level and worked so well, it spread to every other grade level. “The students get excited to see that their score goes up,” says third-grade teacher Jess Grigg. “It’s motivating.”

The excitement and motivation aren’t limited to the classroom. Initiated by the Carlson PTA, the school has been making a strong effort to get more males involved with events such as the Breakfast with Dad and Dads in the Classroom. In so doing, Jochim touches on a major impairment of the American educational system: the limited role of males, particularly at the elementary level.

“We want men — dads, uncles, grandfathers — that are part of our students’ lives to become more involved in their education. We had 25 to 30 dads show up at the breakfast, which was inspiring.”

She points to a male-led event, the Halloween Dance and Costume Contest, as evidence of progress on that front.

Jochim credits the efforts of the “small but mighty” Carlson PTA for making it comfortable for men to be part of the elementary school day. “I can’t say enough about how the PTA has been instrumental in making Carlson a warm and welcoming school,” says Jochim.

The Carlson PTA has been working as well to bring the entire Clear Creek community together. In conjunction with Georgetown Community School and King-Murphy Elementary, it sponsored the Great Pumpkin Run, which served as a fund-raiser for all three schools.

“I want to give credit to Dr. Patterson as well,” says Jochim. “He has given us a wonderful road map to success with his belief that every child can learn and will do so at his or her own pace.”

The story about Carlson is more than feel-good; it’s what education must be about. An excellent school looks beyond test scores and provides a safe, warm and inviting place where kids want not only to be but also want to do their best while there — taking pride in their learning.

There’s an enthusiasm abounding at Carlson, and there is a shared responsibility for it: staff, students, parents and community. But it began with sound, positive leadership.

Upcoming Carlson Elementary events: Science Fair, Feb. 4 and 5 at the school; the Mountain Area Science Fair, Feb. 6 at Ralston Elementary; and Parents Night Out, Feb. 26 at the Buffalo Restaurant.

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