Ocean Shores Elementary School has seen a dramatic increase in the number of younger students enrolling this year, the North Beach School Board was told last week during a first-hand look at how the school has made significant strides to improve test scores and the overall learning environment.
Principal Rhonda Ham said she could only speculate on why more students are attending Ocean Shores Elementary at the pre-school and kindergarten level, with a total increase of 50 students school-wide since last spring. There are now 51 students in kindergarten, with first grade at 45, up 21 students over the past year. A second kindergarten teacher has been hired as a result.
For the second consecutive year, the school has received state “School of Distinction” honors, and Ham shared some of the data that went into the steady progress toward improvement. She showed how the school has “closed the gap” between third- and six-graders, according to testing data. Third-grade students in 2015 scoring at 39 percent in testing, now are scoring at 67 percent in 2018.
“We still have a lot of room for growth,” Ham said.
She noted how the school suffered last year when fifth-grade became overcrowded due to a teacher retirement and resulting turmoil. To make up for that issue, the school has started individual student interventions to improve fluency, comprehension and test scores.
Supt. Andrew Kelly said using the data in such a process to improve at all levels is being employed at Pacific Beach Elementary as well, with similar success.
“I want to highlight for the board the pinpoint accuracy that Rhonda is talking about with each of the skills that are necessary for kids to become grade-level readers,” Kelly said. “This is the exact structure that our district hasn’t had, that we now have in place both here and Pacific Beach, that will allow all of our proficiency numbers to really shoot through the sky as we move forward.”
“The earlier that we are able to catch the deficits, the earlier we are able to intercede,” Kelly said of the approach that uses data to determine which students need individual attention and in what areas to progress to the next level.
“What is cool about the data is that we’re able to go from a generalized hunch to a more prescriptive treatment plan for any kid that is not at grade level,” Kelly said.
The good news for Ocean Shores comes only a year after turmoil under former Supt. Deborah Holcomb nearly caused Ham to retire early until the board stepped in and eventually ended Holcomb’s contract in her second year. Kelly has been superintendent since July.
“This is really the prescription we have been looking for,” Ham said of the overall process.
The school’s Partners in Education (PIE) group has received a $24,000 grant from the Grays Harbor Community Foundation for playground equipment, as well as grants from the Kiwanis and Pacific Science Center.
Ham also highlighted the gifts of Joe Cornell, known as “Santa Joe,” who has been donating coats, toys, warm winter clothes and school supplies to Grays Harbor students for more than 35 years.
“So far this year, he has brought us 90 pairs of tennis shoes, so all our kids have tennis shoes for PE,” Ham said of Cornell, who is from Central Park. “Joe also brought us some coats and toys for our kids for Christmas. There are 120 soccer balls.” Other coats have been supplied by John Balmer, and they will be given out at the school.
“Our kids will be warm and well-taken care of,” Ham said.
The North Beach School District, represented by Kelly, earned the Washington State School Directors Association award for excellence at the group’s recent annual conference. Board president Jane Harnagy noted the award in large part was for the district’s support of students in need, with the efforts of former Board member Doreen Cato helping to put together the first North Beach resource guide and the leading to the district’s committee on to address homelessness and hunger. Also cited was the work of newly hired Rettai Bruni as a counselor, and providing help and access to families who need support or a place to go.
For the first time, the district also paid for students to take the SAT test for college entrance placement.