Hawthorne honored as 'high-performing priority school'

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National, state and local education leaders raved about the progress Hawthorne Elementary School has made during a statewide tour of the 27 schools that have worked hard to boost student achievement with funding from three-year federal School Improvement Grants (SIG).

Kim Mead, President of the Washington Education Association, praised a packed assembly of students, staff and parents for the major strides Hawthorne has made since receiving more than $1.8 million in SIG funds.

Test scores have risen by double-digits across the board over the past three years. The biggest improvements since 2010:

  • Fifth-grade reading scores have increased more than 50 percent.
  • Third-grade math scores have risen 41 percent.
  • Third-grade reading scores have increased 26 percent.

"You outdid the work of 1,400 (SIG) schools across the country," she said. "It was all of you working together, working really hard. That's why you were so successful."

Mead presented Hawthorne with a "Washington State High-Performing Priority School" banner, and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel delivered a $500 check for the school's library.

Other leaders who attended the Nov. 18 assembly included: State Representatives Sharon Tomiko-Santos and Joe Fitzgibbon; Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp; and Kelly Aramaki, Seattle Public Schools' Executive Director for the Southeast region.

After the assembly, teachers, staff and parents met with leaders in the school library to share ideas about Hawthorne's success and the challenges the school faces now that the SIG funding is gone.

Third-grade teacher Oveta Hunter said everyone at the school has lived and breathed a commitment to turning the school around. "We all opted in. We came early. We left late. We were there to support each other. We were determined to make it work, and we did."

Fifth-grade teacher Carole Lynch praised the school's leadership for their confidence in teachers. "To have trust for your teachers that they know how to teach, in this age of testing … is critical."

Librarian Bruce Toomey applauded the school's investment in staffing the library full-time. Before SIG, the school went a year with no librarian at all, and in other years – like many other schools in Seattle – Hawthorne had a part-time librarian.

School Business Officer Eileen Gray suggested that schools would stand a greater chance at long-term success with five-year vs. three-year grants. "It would've been nice to spend the last two years working on sustainability."

Several teachers said they miss the 20 extra minutes in every school day, which adds up to a full class period once a week, and the coaches that sharpened teachers' focus on excellence and collaborating from classroom to classroom.

The school used to have two family support workers and a counselor who worked together to help families in need get comprehensive, "wraparound" services. Now Family Support Worker Yolanda McGhee does that most of that work on her own – with part-time support from contracted counselors.

Hawthorne was a "Level 1" school when the SIG process started — the lowest of five levels of schoolwide student achievement. It recently moved up to Level 2.

"To get from 1 to 2 is a huge jump," said Kelly Aramaki, the district's Southeast Seattle director. "When you plant bamboo, it doesn't grow for a couple years. It's establishing roots. Then it grows 16 feet a year. Hawthorne has the roots and a foundation for success in place. This school has the potential to be a Level 5 school within just a few years."

Aramaki added: "There's an energy level around Hawthorne that is rare in schools right now."

Principal Sandra Scott said it's been a nonstop team effort that involved teachers, staff, students and families. "This was heavy lifting," she said. "I am so proud of this staff. Everyone stepped up to the plate, took a big swing and hit it out of the park."

Read more about Hawthorne's success:

Head of NEA says state shines in education reformThe Associated Press

Want to improve your school? NEA president stresses collaboration as first step, Seattle Times

Washington SIG schools outpace others, Washington Education Association