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Wells Middle School Earns California Distinguished School

April 21, 2013

Wells Middle School California Distinguished SchoolWells Middle School Principal Dr. Kevin Grier was recently checking his email. This was not uncommon. As with all of us, we do this multiple times per day. However, this day was a bit different. Sitting in his inbox was an email from California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson. This email notified Kevin that Wells had been selected as one of the 218 Middle or High Schools for the distinction of Distinguished School (CDS) for 2013. While it did not come as a complete surprise to him, Kevin reflected on the entire process from the declaration of eligibility, the development of an application, an independent site visit/validation and ultimately, the verdict. Without hesitation, he emailed his entire site staff with the great news. Further, he collected up as many salutary magnets from earlier distinctions he could find and placed one in every staff member’s mailbox. Wells Middle School had previously received this honor four separate times, in 1994, 1999, 2003 and 2009. However, the criterion for eligibility for this award has changed dramatically in recent years. This is the story of that journey.

As previously mentioned, in past years, applications for CDS status was open – any school could apply. Further, the Department of Education decided to award schools in alternating years – Elementary schools in even years and Middle and High Schools in odd years. Here is where the equation for eligibility became complicated. In order for schools to apply, they needed to meet or exceed Academic Performance Index (API) growth targets and to meet or exceed testing standards under Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In English, what it meant was that specific demographic sub-groups (in this case, Hispanic and African-American students) would need to demonstrate academic advancement. So, the definition of eligible schools was clear. A year ago, what was not so clear was how to close this achievement gap.

OneDublin.org had the opportunity to sit down with Principal Grier to discuss this remarkable turnaround and accomplishment. Wells Middle School (WMS) collects students from three feeder elementary schools – Murray, Dublin Elementary and Frederiksen. One of the sites was placed into Program Improvement as specific sub-groups were not attaining adequate scoring growth. As a direct result, Wells was in danger of falling into the same category. Pinpointed action was required.

OneDublin.org: Eligibility to apply for the California Distinguished School recognition is specific. In some ways, the award is a reflection upon the previous year vs. the current year. Please expand on some of the structural highlights that were implemented in 2011-12.

Wells Middle School Principal Kevin GrierKevin Grier: “Wells was invited based on API & AYP and that all subgroups met either the federal targets for English & Mathematics OR the subgroup made safe harbor (a term used to indicate that the subgroup showed enough positive growth toward the target but not enough to make the target). At some point, the state also decided that the year to apply would alternate between elementary and secondary schools. This year, we were one of only 218 middle & high schools to receive this award!”

OneDublin.org: Achieving a Distinguished School designation in your second year as Principal is very significant. For those that support your vision for Wells, what would you like to say to your teachers, fellow administrators, classified and support staff?

Grier: “This staff and its students and its parents truly demonstrate on a daily basis that they are committed to working as hard as possible to maximize student learning. For staff, they really took to heart the process of emphasizing their targeted students and they also strengthened their curriculum and offered additional time (both in the day and after school hours) to work with students to truly learn the content.”

OneDublin.org: And to the students and parents?

Grier: “For the students, they gave it their all every day leading up to the test. And then on the testing days, I challenged them to “look me in the eye and tell me that they did their best on the test”. I was so pleased when so many met me at the front gate to school on their way home and stopped to let me know that they had done just that! For the parents, they supported their child at home with love and care and help where possible. The parents encouraged their kids to take advantage of what the staff offered in terms of support outside the classroom. It was a wonderful year watching as everyone pulled together as a team to prove that Wells was a school with heart AND brains!”

What we have not yet discussed is the application process. As required by the California Department of Education, two “signature practices” must be identified in order to differentiate the school site. In this case, Wells elected to highlight the Targeting of Students for Increased Achievement and Intervention Opportunities. Two of the primary contributors to the application were staff members Denise Saylor and Robbie Kreitz. We visited with Ms. Saylor to discuss her involvement in this successful effort. Denise attained her B.S. in Speech Pathology from California State University, Hayward. Subsequently, she completed a Masters in Education from the University of Phoenix. After many years of community involvement as a parent, Ms. Saylor started her teaching career at Canyon Middle School in Castro Valley. She then began employment in Dublin in 2008. Currently, she is a 7th grade CORE teacher and also teaches an 8th grade Expository Reading and Writing class.

OneDublin.org: When Wells received notice last fall that it was eligible for CDS, a team was assembled to construct the application. Tell us why you were interested in making a contribution.

Wells Middle School Teacher Denise SaylorDenise Saylor: “I was interested in helping in any way possible since I am proud of Wells and of being part of Dublin Unified. I also had experience writing a different application and hoped that my experience in that process could help with this process. I am also the Character Education Committee Chair for Wells and feel that our Character Ed program is a special part of our school environment and I want to try and have that included in the application.”

OneDublin.org: A significant portion of the application required the explanation of two “signature practices” demonstrated at the school. Please detail the process of choosing these practices and the approach to writing about them.

Saylor: “Kevin mentioned the practices he felt were important and the rest of the team agreed. I feel that Wells’ effort to develop intervention which helps students and character education are two practices which make Wells amazing. We began by looking at where we were last time we applied and then detailed the changes/ growth we have made.”

OneDublin.org: Anything else that you may care to add?

Saylor: “I hope others in the community are aware of how wonderful Wells is. Wells’ staff and students need a standing ovation for the work each group completed. Staff and students came together to turn this school around and make the changes need to show intellectual growth as well as emotional growth to demonstrate ownership and accountability for the success of our school. I love working at Wells, with this staff and for these students. I am truly blessed every day and love driving to work.”

We salute the teachers, leadership and students at Wells Middle School for this recent achievement. A formal presentation of this designation will occur in Santa Clara on May 17th.

Wells Middle School

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