West Seattle Elementary School success: ‘How did this happen? Not overnight’

When you think of scores and schools – you might think of sports. We certainly hear about those numbers far more often than on the ones that come from the classroom. So we were glad to hear from West Seattle Elementary School in High Point, excited to share the news of its ongoing academic success. The following is by WSES Ritchie Garcia:

West Seattle Elementary has had a dramatic turnaround of student performance on state exams since 2010. Over the last four years, science scores have increased from 3% to 70% passing rate.

Fourth- and fifth-grade reading scores went from 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively, to 70 percent and 73 percent passing rate.

Students have made significant progress in math as well:

We have a diverse population at our school as well as 90 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Our success is significant because we are an achievement gap school that is making a difference for its students. Walking through the hallways in the building, you’ll see classrooms full of students completely engaged in learning and enjoying the school day.

How did this happen? Not overnight, would be the best response. Four years ago, West Seattle Elementary received a Race to the Top grant and experienced a restructuring of staff and administration.

Unlike a charter school that can create a new school culture overnight with its bylaws and self-selecting parents who agree to adhere to that school culture, it takes time (sometimes several years) to change the culture of an existing school. To change a culture, it has to be school-wide and requires strong leadership and partnership with the community, which is why there can be schools with great teachers and low-performing students. It takes a vision and intentional effort to redefine the culture of a school.

I have seen many public schools in affluent neighborhoods raise thousands of dollars through their community to procure materials, hire more teachers, etc.; that amount of fundraising makes it hard to communicate to students in impoverished areas that we are either a meritocracy or there is equity in the public school system. We can help bring some equity to our school by raising money through donations that help build capacity.

How did West Seattle attain success? Some teaching staff stayed throughout the four years and some have moved on. What has been consistent throughout is the leadership in the building and an implementation of systems school-wide. We do not teach a scripted curriculum nor to the test, but we do teach to meet state and common core national standards.

It is not all about increasing test scores, either. In K-2, teachers have instilled a passion for learning, and have taught students the roles and responsibilities of being a student as well as meeting learning standards. More students are arriving in the upper grades inquisitive and enjoying the learning process making it easier for all students to succeed. Many schools have great teachers but it takes more than just great teachers to change a culture or climate. It takes time.

Because we are a green school in an urban area and have made significant academic gains, we have been given an opportunity for our population of students to participate in a science field experience at Islandwood, with our students learning from scientists while conducting their own investigations as well as create a service learning project with Nature consortium. This is a learning experience in which students of low socio-economic status rarely get to partake.

WSES is crowdfunding to make sure the Islandwood experience can happen, as mentioned in our recent roundup of school fundraisers in our area (another one’s in the works, by the way). Here’s the link.

26 Replies to "West Seattle Elementary School success: 'How did this happen? Not overnight'"

  • Dale November 5, 2013 (11:29 am)

    Right On!

  • mama3boys November 5, 2013 (12:00 pm)

    Great teachers, great community, great leadership – great job!!!

  • evergreen November 5, 2013 (12:08 pm)

    Way to go! I have heard that the teachers there work very hard and are super dedicated. If my kids weren’t at STEM, I would probably send them there for the great diversity.

  • stb November 5, 2013 (12:13 pm)

    This is awesome and so well stated. I just made a donation and I hope many others do as well. All kids should have a chance to go on great field trips–not just the kids from big PTA schools.

  • Alki Resident November 5, 2013 (12:36 pm)

    Way to go, West Seattle Elementary!!!! Thank you to all of the hard-working teachers, staff AND students! Great Job! :)

  • E November 5, 2013 (12:52 pm)

    Tears of joy come to my eyes reading this. Way to go!

  • susan November 5, 2013 (1:08 pm)

    I am so impressed! As a parent at Schmitz Park, which is a well-funded school, I want to help support the WSES crowd-funded field trip to Islandwood. I challenge any other Schmitz Park PTSA parents who are reading these comments to join me. Let’s make sure all of our West Seattle kids get to have these amazing enrichment activities!

  • LS November 5, 2013 (1:23 pm)

    Congratulations to everyone at WSE! Teachers, staff, students and parents!! All working together to change lives and foster a love of learning!

  • Rachel Garcia November 5, 2013 (2:06 pm)

    Teachers and children of West Seattle Elementary, we are so proud of you! Thank you for showing that ALL children are capable of loving school and learning with heart!

  • Lina November 5, 2013 (2:27 pm)

    I love that this also attributes the success to outdoor, experiential opportunities that the students have. As an outdoor and environmental educator – I feel there are few better ways to inspire academic curiosity – in all subjects – then to get kids outside, engaged with their environment. I am so glad that WSE students get to work with Islandwood and Nature Consortium, both organizations do amazing work.

  • WestsideScribe November 5, 2013 (3:34 pm)

    Love it! The focus on this school and community seems to really be worth it — keep up the support, Seattle!

  • trickycoolj November 5, 2013 (3:40 pm)

    The math bar chart is a little misleading. If you look at the 3rd grade class of 2010, their scores decline in 4th grade in 2011. Same with the 2011 3rd graders, decline in 4th grade 2012 and marginally increase in 5th grade in 2013. So while year for year in a single grade scores are increasing those are different groups of students. Why are the same group (age) students not meeting the next set of standards when they move up a grade?

    Don’t want to be too negative, but it doesn’t seem to tell the whole story.

  • Laura November 5, 2013 (4:06 pm)

    trickycoolj, students are transient in our school at West Seattle Elementary. The only way to fairly test outcomes is year-to-year, grade-to-grade. And, the outcomes are marvelous! Students deserve to feel proud and teachers supported! Way to go WSE!

  • Vicki Sacco November 5, 2013 (4:36 pm)

    Trickycoolj makes a point. There are going to be dips and surges in data and we use that information to learn and grow. School transformation is an ongoing process. This article is about celebrating our successes, of which there are many. We were the only school in Seattle to make gains in all 4 subject areas. We also had the highest growth in reading in the entire state. We have amazing kids and an extremely professional, dedicated and hard-working staff. I am proud to be their principal.

    Vicki Sacco,
    West Seattle Elementary

    Thank you for all the positive and supportive comments.

  • Lox November 5, 2013 (4:49 pm)

    Very encouraging to hear. Keep it up!

  • N November 5, 2013 (4:50 pm)

    Way to go!! This WS mom just made a donation and hope all the funds get raised!

  • Bonnie November 5, 2013 (4:57 pm)

    That’s wonderful, I’ve heard great things about WSE. Good job!

  • SP Parent November 5, 2013 (5:12 pm)

    Yes, its almost embarassing that our PTA is trying to raise over $180,000!

  • Kelsey November 5, 2013 (6:09 pm)

    Regardless of the data — which is impressive and should be celebrated! — it is inspiring to hear the story of a school community that has come together to ensure equity in education. I live across the street from WSE and have heard murmurings of the change process underway. I’m donating for sure. All children deserve opportunities to experience enrichment beyond the classroom. Way to go!

  • Person November 5, 2013 (6:28 pm)

    SP Parent, I agree, however, I do remember SP donating $ to other schools on at least one occasion. And most of the $ does seem to go to teachers at SP, which brings to light how much more the teachers at these lesser-funded schools have to do and pay for. Not that the SP teachers aren’t awesome and deserving, because they are!

    But, yeah, hard not to cringe, but don’t feel shameful either.

  • ahmamaof2 November 5, 2013 (7:40 pm)

    Great job West Seattle Elementary!!

  • Lynn Bernstein November 5, 2013 (9:45 pm)

    We are totally supportive of the growth and development that WSE has achieved in a few short years!

  • Julie November 5, 2013 (9:55 pm)

    Great work, everybody!

    (side note: Wow! Those 2011 3rd graders seem to have been quite a class.)

  • Sean November 6, 2013 (3:45 pm)

    Congratulation to the teachers, support staff and the students at WSE. Way to go!

  • Heidi A November 7, 2013 (3:18 pm)

    I wish I could bump this story up! I made my donation today and see that they are at $4,201, almost halfway to their goal of $10k. Come on West Seattle – we can do this! A WSES mom said at one of the school boundary meetings that she was the only person there for her community – I get what she meant and it was a valid point, but I like to think we are one community. Let’s prove it.

    • WSB November 7, 2013 (3:34 pm)

      We’ll be doing another school-fundraiser roundup in the next day or so, fwiw.

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