Hawthorne Elementary making gains

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Hawthorne Elementary School, once threatened with closure by the state, has gone through some major changes and is starting to see growth.

Judy Martin-Tafoya, who has been principal of Hawthorne for a year and a half, told the Journal that everything from the paint on the walls and the carpet on the floors to teaching strategies and professional development got a refresh.

Even kids have noticed it’s like a new school.

“One kid told us, ‘Only the principal is the same now,’ ” said Gabriella Blakey, associate superintendent for the learning zone that includes Hawthorne, at 420 General Somervell NE.

The revamp comes after the school was previously labeled in need of “more rigorous intervention,” or MRI, as a result of year-to-year low school grades under the state’s previous school monitoring system.

The MRI process req uired schools with consecutive F grades to go through an improvement process. Albuquerque Public Schools created restructure and redesign plans for three formerly MRI schools in the district, including Hawthorne.

Among changes, Hawthorne has gone to a longer-than-usual school year and day, implemented “blended learning” that incorporates technology throughout all classes, and put teachers on an eight-hour workday to allow for professional development.

Hawthorne also was redesigned to a community school framework, which makes it a hub for families and stakeholders to get resources that vary from homework help to health and social services.

Although Los Padillas and Whittier elementaries, the other two former MRI schools, had similar plans, Hawthorne’s plan had been rejected by the state. Instead, the school was ordered to inform parents about schools with higher school grades where they could send their children.

Despite this, APS moved forward with revamping Hawthorne, funding the work through its operational budget.

The MRI system at one point led to litigation after New Mexico’s previous Public Education Department administration insisted closure remain on the table for Hawthorne.

Despite the controversy and political shifts that have changed education policy in the state since then, Hawthorne is staying with its improvement plan.

Blakey said it’s crucial to stay the course because the school is seeing results.

“We’re still committed to it. The teachers and the staff did a lot of work, and it’s something that is working,” Blakey said.

Martin-Tafoya says the school has had modest growth in student achievement since it has implemented the plan.

For instance, its improvement in reading scores was the highest across APS for the 2018-19 school year. Its reading scores for third, fourth and fifth grade students jumped 10.4 percentage points, from 6.6% to 17.5% for reading proficiency.

Students who are considered English learners boosted reading proficiency by 10.4 percentage points as well, and students in special education classes boosted their reading proficiency 6.2 percentage points, according to APS.

Martin-Tafoya noted the scores themselves show more work is needed and the school still has a long way to go. But she said the progress indicates the school is moving in the right direction.

A big priority for the school is math.

“This year, our math scores dipped 1.6% … so we have a whole new rubric for math,” she said. “We are really going to concentrate on our math this year.”

Martin-Tafoya has seen the benefits of specific strategies such as a lesson study that has teachers collaborate, test and critique lesson plans together.

Cultural shifts

Another positive shift the principal has noticed is a cultural one.

She said the school has seen the benefits of positive reenforcement for both students and staff.

In fact, that’s a reason the principal came to the school in the first place.

Martin-Tafoya, who has been with APS since 1979, said she was drawn to Hawthorne because she felt her enthusiastic leadership style could be an asset as the school tries to improve.

“Kids have to know that you value their hard work,” she said.

Blakey said showing appreciation to kids makes a difference.

“These communities are used to being told what’s wrong and the crime statistics, the homelessness or the poverty. We really tried building the plans in the first place with a very asset-based approach of being proud of your school,” she said. “The kids are tired of hearing they are the F school and they are bad. The kids pick up on those things.”

Martin-Tafoya said “dragon awards” that play off the school’s mascot are one good example.

When students get a “dragon wing” recognizing a student achievement, not only are they showered with praise by the principal, but they also are entered in a raffle.

Blakey said enrollment has improved, too, as a result of the work done at Hawthorne.

“It’s the first year in a long time that they ended the (2018-19) school year with either the same or more students than they started with,” she said, adding there are about 375 kids at Hawthorne.

As for staff, the school had five new staff members this year, compared with 17 new staffers the first year of the reorganization, which was implemented in the 2018-19 school year.

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