Clinton Primary Focuses on Writing; Test Scores Rise

Last year Clinton Primary, an elementary school in the Hope District, was in their fourth year of No Child Left Behind’s school improvement. No one wanted a fifth year. “We need to ensure that every student in our building receives the quality education that they deserve,” says Kendal Montgomery, Clinton Primary’s principal. In the past, the school had tried hiring an outside consultant but it hadn’t been effective. They were looking for something different. That’s when they turned to the JBHM Education Group.

JBHM found that Clinton Primary, the largest k-4 school in Arkansas, was already doing a lot of things right. They had common planning and weekly collaboration time for all grade levels already established, and five talented instructional facilitators were working directly with teachers on their performance. Looking at past test scores, Lois Sandusky, a JBHM specialist, suggested they spend the first year focusing exclusively on writing. “Lois guaranteed me,” says Ms. Montgomery, “that if we could just focus on writing we could raise our test scores.”

At first, everyone was a little reluctant. Why? Not only was the proposed teaching strategy something they’d never tried, but it just seemed too simple. “It was just a very simple graphic organizer for students to organize their thoughts into paragraphs,” says Ms. Montgomery. But Clinton Primary implemented the tool, along with monthly school-wide writing prompts, and quickly found that it worked. “When we got the [students’] papers, we could really see the progress,” says Ms. Montgomery.

Pictured are: Superintendent Bobby Hart, Robin Townsend (Reading Instructional Facilitator), Pam Lewallen (Assistant Principal), Kendal Montgomery (Principal), Lois Sandusky (JBHM Consultant) and Julie Lively (Reading Instructional Facilitator).

Clinton Primary also made it a priority to improve teacher performance. But, with 56 teachers, giving every teacher the individualized attention was a challenge in and of itself. JBHM and Clinton Primary came up with a creative solution: utilize the instructional facilitators. Trained in JBHM’s ILeRT tools, classroom management techniques, observation and post-observation skills, the five instructional facilitators went into the classrooms and worked with each of the teachers. They focused on teacher modeling, questioning, de-briefing, and had regular face-to-face teacher conferences, working with them on professional growth plans and setting goals based on the facilitators’ observation data and the rubric. Robin Townsend, a literacy coach at Clinton Primary and one of the five facilitators, says the feedback from the teacher conferences was huge. “Because teachers had not been getting that.”

Pam Lewallen, Clinton Primary’s assistant principal of grades 2-4, began to notice a renewed sense of commitment in the school, and a new level of dedication from the teachers. “The students were learning, the teachers were learning, the administration was learning, the instructional facilitators were learning. Everyone in the building was learning,” says Ms. Lewallen. “Not only were [the students] held accountable to learn, but when [JBHM] would go into the classroom, they would see the teachers being held accountable to learn also. And I think that was a great thing for our students to see.”

Better student test scores soon followed. This year’s fourth graders scored 20 percentage points higher in literacy than they did as third graders. Third grade literacy scores went up 23 percentage points and fourth grade increased literacy scores by 15 percentage points. Math scores in third grade went up too—11 percentage points.

“We went from a school looking at school improvement year five to one that’s now achieving in both literacy and math,” says Ms. Montgomery. But Clinton Primary has raised more than just their test scores. They’ve raised their own expectations. Next year, says Ms. Montgomery, they plan on becoming an exemplary school, which in Arkansas is “the highest you can be.”

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