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Westside Schools see big improvement with new teaching approach

Sept. 18, 2018

By Brian Mastre, WOWT

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Westside Schools saw troubling numbers and made a plan. The quick turnaround has been amazing.

Kindergartners at Westbrook Elementary scored a 35 percent on a proficiency test that looked at sounds of letters and the alphabet. That’s the lowest in the district.

A new program was put in place, and by the time they left kindergarten, the students earned a 93 percent.

“So, we went in and focused on letters and sounds, letter identification, putting words together and breaking words apart because we know those skills take you to a mastery of reading. We here at Westside have made a big commitment and investment into that at the primary level,” said Greg Betts, with Westside School Professional Learning.

Those changes are now being implemented district wide.

Renae Stirba goes over lessons about the building blocks of reading with her kindergartners every day. What she’s doing in class is different from just two years ago.

“It’s a big undertaking to go into all of our elementary buildings and change the way teachers are teaching the foundations,” Betts said.

Teachers began applying a more intense and focused phonics approach, which resulted in the 58 percent jump in results.

“I was blown away. It was amazing that they started at a certain percentage that was lower, and maintain, and able to get that high at the end of the year. That’s great work by our teachers in the building,” said Stephanie Sabin, a first grade teacher at Westbrook Elementary.

Betts said that usually these kinds of turnarounds can take three to five years. They saw it immediately.

Some of the kindergartners are now in Sabin’s class. There is more guided reading, but the greater emphases on the foundations continue through second grade.

Students who need one-on-one time have the option, and every day time is set aside for sustained silent reading.

“It comes down to our teachers and support staff. Everyone is pulling the same way for kids,” said Westbrook principal Tyler Hottovy.

From sounding out a letter to forming sentences, the students are building toward success.

See the original article and video on WOWT’s website.