Special assistance goes Schoolwide at HES

A designation that was challenging to achieve will make it easier for Hillsboro Elemen?tary School to address the learning needs of all of its students. Last month, HES received word it has been accepted by the Kansas Depart?ment of Educa?tion to be a Title I Schoolwide school. For many years, HES has been a Title I Targeted Assist?ance school, receiving federal funding for resources that help children who are failing to meet the state?s high academic achievement standards. HES Title I coordinator Ellynne Wiebe and her team of three paraprofessionals have been making 80 to 95 student visits a day in the areas of reading and math?and with good results. HES is referring fewer students to the county-wide special-education program for additional assistance. ?We?re not placing near as many,? principal Evan Yoder said. Now, as a Schoolwide school, Title I funds are no longer restricted to students who have been identified for that kind of assistance, and the task of assisting those students is not restricted to Title I staff. ?With the Schoolwide program, every teacher in the building becomes a Title I teacher for all kids,? Yoder said. ?You don?t have to just work with certain students. ?The Schoolwide program breaks down all those barriers,? he added. ?School improvement becomes easier because you don?t have to work only with certain students.? Added Wiebe: ?You devise a plan to help every child move forward. Even for those who are excelling, we still find things for them to do. We try to push everybody?it?s not just the kids who are struggling.? Past restrictions Restrictions that come with the Title I Targeted Assistance program compounded the challenge of record keeping, Yoder said. ?We got the money and had to be audited to make sure we were working with the right kids, things like that,? he said. ?There were a lot of regulations where we couldn?t work with certain kids, such as special-ed kids.? Title I staff were often frustrated with having to stick strictly to the federal mandate: Title I money is intended to serve the needs of Title I child?ren. ?It was a horrible thing because other kids were struggling and we couldn?t help them,? Wiebe said. ?It wasn?t working. If I?m in a classroom helping with math, and a student other than a Title I student raises a hand, can I go answer that child?s question? The answer was, ?Title I money is intended for Title I children.? ?Those were the lines that were drawn,? she added. ?(Schoolwide) makes it so we can help anyone. It?s the best for the children.? The Schoolwide approach means a different mind set for the regular classroom teachers, too. ?Every teacher a child sees is responsible for growth in that child,? Wiebe said. ?We can?t just say, ?Oh, they?re a Title I kid and Title I is going to fix it.? And I can?t say, ?Oh, they?re just a classroom kid, the teacher has to do more.? We cooperate. ?We have team meetings three out of four weeks a month,? she added. ?We talk about individual kids: What are we doing for this kid? What has to change? Are we seeing growth? ?So we?re very focused.? Recent eligibility HES became eligible to apply for Schoolwide status already two years ago, when the number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches surpassed 40 percent. This school year, 47 percent of HES students qualify. ?Ellynne was ready to do it already then,? Yoder said. ?But I?saw the paperwork and I wasn?t ready to do it because I?knew it was going to be a ton of meetings and knew there was no guarantee that we?d even get it. ?It was a whole-year process if we were going to do it.? Another obstacle was that HES had just gone through a four-year process of revising its strategies through the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) reading program. ?One of the big things they push when you move to School?wide is that you have a schoolwide reform movement? how is your school going to be different?? Wiebe said. ?That?s what kind of intimidated us. We actually thought we were doing pretty good already. For us to come up with a whole new way of doings things was kind of intimidating.? But as frustration with the Targeted Assistance status continued last year, Yoder and Wiebe decided to take the plunge after all. ?We used the same committee that had gone through the MTSS reforms,? Yoder said. ?We met with all staff at the beginning of last year and informed them we were going to attempt this, and got their input on a number of things.? As expected, the work was extensive. Forming smaller teams to work on specific aspects of the proposal helped, but the process also required community involvement. ?That?s always hard to do,? Yoder said. ?Within the program, we were trying to get parents involved in our school.? A highlight of that effort was a ?Parent Eat Out Together Night? this past Septem?ber that drew 430 people for free pizza, thanks to grant funding. The team finally accomplished its work and submitted the 47-page document to the state June 1?two weeks ahead of the deadline. ?We thought we?d get a response right away because we got ours in quicker than most people,? Yoder said. Playing in the back of their minds was the difficulty of having a Schoolwide plan approved. ?Ellynne and I had gone to a meeting a year or two ago to talk to some people who had already gone through this process,? Yoder said. ?For at least one school, I thought their plan looked very, very good but they had been rejected?several times, in fact.? After not hearing anything over the summer, Yoder said the school finally received a response during the first week of school in mid-August. ?What we found out then was the plan looked good but we had some revisions we had to have back in like in two weeks,? Yoder said. ?Several of us who were at school took a day and did the revisions. We got it back in the next week.? The final decision came last month. ?They had approved our application, and said it was a well-written plan,? Yoder said. New era begins The new Title I designation kicks in immediately and cannot be revoked, even if the percentage of students on subsidized meal plans falls below 40 percent in the future. ?We can be audited and they can slap our hands if we?re not meeting our goals,? Yoder said. ?But once you?re in, you?re in. ?Now we?ve got to do what we?re supposed to do,? he added. ?A lot of the reforms were already happening (as the result of MTSS). We?ll keep enhancing that. The family night was a new thing and we?ve already done that.? Both Wiebe and Yoder said HES has room to grow in the area of parental involvement, which is one of the three primary goals identified in the HES plan. ?We have wonderful parents in Hillsboro, but it?s hard sometimes to work together as partners,? Wiebe said. ?What we do sometimes is just so Greek to the general public. They don?t understand how we do things. ?For example, our math curriculum is a little hard to understand, so kids bring homework home and the parents say, ?I have no idea how to help you.? ?We need to bridge that gap,? Wiebe said. ?We need to work together and not have parents say that?s the school?s job, and us not to blame parents because they?re not doing their part.? Even though the territory is new, Wiebe and Yoder both said they are excited about what lies ahead with the Schoolwide designation. Every day, each classroom will have a 30-minute ?intervention time,? with each student in each classroom designated for special attention according to his or her need. ?It?s for every kid, not just those who struggle,? Wiebe said. ?As a parent of kids who are on the other end, I know that every day for 30 minutes they?re getting input that?s more challenging, that?s pushing their logic and reasoning skills in different ways than for kids who needs some help with reading. ?There?s something for everyone.?

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