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Shaw MS among top ranking Washoe County schools
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Sep 24, 2013 | 1529 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo -- Shaw Middle School principal Gina Leonhard spoke Tuesday about her school's rise to a top five-star ranking in the Washoe County School District's Performance Framework. The jump was the biggest in the district among non-elementary schools.
Tribune file photo -- Shaw Middle School principal Gina Leonhard spoke Tuesday about her school's rise to a top five-star ranking in the Washoe County School District's Performance Framework. The jump was the biggest in the district among non-elementary schools.
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When the Washoe County School District unveiled its Performance Framework in 2012, Shaw Middle School in Sparks was given three stars and ranked in the middle of the pack. The new tool was only a challenge for Shaw principal Gina Leonhard whose school posted a five-star ranking in 2013.

Shaw’s jump was the largest in the district by a non elementary school and the Spanish Springs-area school joins Clayton and Depoali Middle schools in Reno as the only five-star rated middle schools in the district. The Performance Framework ranks on a 1-5 scale of achievement in academics and monitors schools’ growth, progress and achievement gaps.

Leonhard said her teaching staff has spent the past year adjusting to the Common Core State Standards and ensuring each student has a deeper learning experience.

“I think, by far, the most important thing is the hard work of our teachers,” Leonhard said Tuesday. “One of the things that we have worked so hard on is aligning our curriculum so that we are truly teaching what we are supposed to be teaching and we are getting our kids to a deeper level of understanding of the content than we have in the past.

“I think that higher level of understanding has paid off because that is kind of what they are looking for in the (Common Core) measurements, more processing skills and not just memorizing things.”

The shift in rankings throughout WCSD was largely among elementary schools, including a shift from 12 five-star schools in 2012 to 10 in 2013. Alice Maxwell Elementary in west Sparks moved up one rank to join Alyce Taylor and Van Gorder Elementary schools as five-star facilities. Just two high schools, AACT and TMCC High schools, were given five stars by the district, marking the second year in a row for both schools.

Sparks’ Sepulveda and Beasley Elementary schools held their four-star ranking while Spanish Springs Elementary moved up from its three-star status to join them. Diedrichsen and Whitehead Elementary schools dropped from a five-star to a four-star rank, bringing the 2013 total to 13 four-star elementary schools. Billinghurst and Swope were the only four-star middle schools, and four high schools received the same rank, including Damonte Ranch, Galena, McQueen and Reno.

The three-star status was given to more schools than any other ranking with 20 elementary schools, seven middle schools and five high schools earning the mark. Sparks-area elementary schools Kate Smith, Lena Juniper and Jesse Hall dropped to three stars while five others held steady during the past year. Dilworth and Mendive Middle schools joined Reed and Spanish Springs High schools in the middle ranking category.

Sixteen elementary schools scored a two-star rank in 2013, including Sparks’ Greenbrae, Drake, Moss and Mitchell Elementary schools. Sparks Middle and Sparks High schools also registered two stars. Lincoln Park Elementary was among three schools that received one star.

“The performance framework is a crucial part of our district-wide effort to guide our schools and each of our students to academic success,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “We are facing new challenges as we begin the transition to Common Core State Standards, which will fundamentally change the way our students learn. As these important changes begin to take place in our classrooms, we know some of our school classifications will change, too. But this is all part of the process of targeting support and resources where they’re needed most, helping our schools succeed, and preparing our students for college and the highly-skilled careers of the future.”

Martinez and other district officials said the Performance Framework closely monitors where resources should be distributed and which schools are not only proficient, but moving forward in certain subjects. Leonhard agreed, saying it accounted for much of Shaw’s shift in 2013, and she said constant communication among teachers inspires curriculum “alignment” and overall success.

“One of the things the framework does is it makes sure you look at every kid,” Leonhard said, “Because we are not just looking at kids that are proficient and trying to keep them proficient. We want to see them make more than a year’s growth in a year’s time. Even the top achieving kids have to continue to grow. Now, it is not just about ‘most of your kids,’ you have to do something with every one of your kids.

“It is definitely a team effort out here. When teachers can work together to figure out how best to deliver the same things that is when you get the best results. You get really good teachers, and because teachers are very passionate about what they do, you kind of get out of their way. You give any support they need, but because they are so good, you just get out of the way and let them take care of their business.”
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