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New Mexico school turns around lagging scores with schoolwide reform efforts.

Two years ago when New Mexico first administered its criterion-referenced tests to measure how well students were faring against state standards, students at Chimayo Elementary School scored far below average. Just a little over a third (37.5 percent) demonstrated proficiency in both reading and mathematics.

But by the following year, in 2004-, the school had made dramatic increases. Fourth-graders--the benchmark initially set by the state for measuring elementary school achievement--scored well above the norm: 75 percent proved mastery of reading, and 87.5 percent of math, overall doubling the average from the previous year. Chimayo's scores outranked those of top comparable schools statewide by 20 points.

Gains at this predominantly Hispanic and economically disadvantaged school were so dramatic that it attracted the attention of Just for the Kids, a program of the National Center for Educational Accountability, which held an honors ceremony this summer for Chimayo and four other New Mexico schools. Just for the Kids recognizes consistently high-performing schools that stand head and shoulders above their demographic counterparts.

According to the state's 2005 adequate yearly progress (AYP) report released in August, Chimayo has met AYP goals for the second year in a row. This accomplishment comes in the face of higher standards and more students--in grades three through six--being examined this year. (2005 test score results were not available at the time this article was written.)

"It's no coincidence," said Suzanne Coriz, who serves on Chimayo's Parent Advisory Council. "A lot of work has been put into this by the staff, the principal, the parents. Everyone is getting involved, and I think that's why it's improved."

The work to which Coriz refers largely began in the 2003-04 school year with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that helped to put into place several initiatives for a schoolwide reform. The funding allowed the school to buy new math and reading curricula materials, including a computer program that tracked student progress; provide teacher training for the new curricula; and hire a behavioral specialist to help cut down on discipline issues that would detract from learning.

The decisionmaking process for school improvement, describes Principal Ruben Salazar, who joined Chimayo two years ago when its principal retired, is "a basket of apples, and it's just choosing the best apple that's going to benefit your school."

He also credits two after-school programs by Para Los Ninos and the Boys & Girls Club, which has a building adjoined to the school's gymnasium.

Located in an outlying area with urban neighbor Sante Fe more than 20 miles away, Chimayo depends on the support of these organizations along with another community partner, the Chimayo Youth Corps, to help provide tutoring and enrichment activities for its children at risk. The need for such programs is especially acute because local drug use and unemployment are at high levels, sources say.

Coriz, who was born and raised in Chimayo and has two daughters at the elementary school, considers the school-community partnership a necessary marriage for a healthy population. "We work very hard and we want to represent ourselves in a positive rather than a negative way," she said. "So now we're just kind of all saying 'No more. It's time that we better the community by putting more effort into the schooling.'"

Coriz and her husband have served on Chimayo's Parent Advisory Council for the past four years since it started. The 10-member council addresses every school-related issue, from safety to special education, and it recently organized a "lunch-buddy" system that enlists parent volunteers as mentors during lunchtime.

Parent involvement had been the number-three concern in 2003 on Chimayo's schoolwide plan identifying 30 areas for improvement. Number one on the list was another need common to schools across the country, especially to rural and disadvantaged ones like Chimayo: technology.

"There's a demand for students to know a lot more than there used to be," said veteran teacher Janet Malcolm, who has taught at Chimayo for the past 27 years. "There's so much technology and other things that students need to learn at an earlier age."

To bridge the digital divide, with federal and private support, Chimayo added a computer lab, installed at least three computers in every classroom, provided laptops to teachers, designated one faculty member as the technology coordinator, and purchased software to help with grading and lesson planning.

Malcolm said the computer program has been a valuable supplemental tool for instruction bemuse it identifies a student's learning level, selects assignments accordingly and tracks achievement. She admits that it was challenging at first to move from group to individualized instruction but is thankful for the teacher support--number two on the improvement plan--for easing the shift.

"You just have to learn to work with it because you find that after a while the old methods are not necessarily working," Malcolm added.

Teacher support also included training on the new reading and math curricula, which Principal Salazar considers more rigorous and better aligned with their objectives. He requires every teacher at the end of each day to assess students' knowledge of the materials. Constant testing, he believes, offers a two-way benefit: "It cuts down on test anxiety.... We also get an assessment of the child's level--that way, parents, students and the administrators are informed as to where the child is."

Salazar plans to purchase additional programs, including one for science learning, that develop critical thinking skills. His struggle is a constant search for resources that will improve learning and meet ever-increasing demands.

Having seen some progress in her children's performances, Coriz agrees that there is much more road to tread in Chimayo's journey toward student achievement. "I know we can still improve," she said. "But we're moving there. We're moving down the right path."

Chimayo Elementary School

* Grade Span: K-6

* Locale: Small town

* Total Students: 239

* Race/Ethnicity Enrollment 98% Hispanic, 2% white

* Free or Reduced-Price Lunch Eligible: 100%

* English Language Learners: 85%

* Special Education Students: 7%

* Percentage Proficient: In mathematics, 87.5%; in reading, 75% (based on fourth-graders assessed on the 2004 state exam).

* Interesting Fact: In math, student scores jumped 50 percentage points in just one year of school reform efforts.
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Title Annotation:Chimayo Elementary School
Author:Ashby, Nicole
Publication:The Achiever
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:1025
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