School excels with Title I funding

When it comes to ensuring low-income students reach their potential, Tualatin Elementary School may just be the best in the state.

That’s according to accolades from the federal Title I program, an initiative established under the No Child Left Behind Act. Each year, the program recognizes outstanding schools making use of its funds through the Title I Distinguished School awards.

Tualatin Elementary is one of only two Oregon schools to be awarded the honor this year, and the only such school to be recognized in the category of Exceptional Student Performance.

“It’s the effort, certainly, of the students being motivated in what our school days look like at Tualatin Elementary, but it’s also the entire staff,” said Principal Jamie Kingery. “Most of our kids work with more than one member of staff.”

Kingery said the school enjoys a wealth of support from both families and a community of volunteers.

The school is in good company: Self Enhancement Inc., a Portland charter school, was lauded among other Title I schools in the category of Closing the Achievement Gap.

Title I funding focuses on schools with a significant population of economically disadvantaged and minority students, specifically those living in poverty or foster care, those with limited English skills, those with disabilities and those considered migratory. Of the Tigard-Tualatin School District’s 10 elementary schools, six receive Title I funding.

Nearly 14 percent of Tualatin’s residents live at or below the poverty line, and almost half of the students at Tualatin Elementary are considered low-income. Of the school’s 550 students, 48 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches.

But in the past two years, Tualatin Elementary has quite literally proven itself a model school: high-poverty, with demonstrated academic success. Model schools are designated by the state to share best practices in order to guide other schools looking to boost student performance.

And as the Title I recognition shows, Tualatin Elementary has seen its students perform well above the state average of standardized testing, specifically in reading, math and science — with the notable advantage of 17 percentage points in the latter category.

This is due in part to the school’s innovative approaches to class structure. For example, to better support its English-learning students, who account for nearly 25 percent of the student population, Tualatin Elementary provides native-language instruction in kindergarten and first-grade classes, part of a larger push to provide dual-language education throughout the district.

“Our No. 1 priority is getting kids to read,” Kingery said. “We have systems in place to be very proactive in identifying students who need specific supports.”

State Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton, himself the former Tigard-Tualatin superintendent, was impressed by the school’s performance.

“Far too often, poverty or race are seen as predictors of student success,” he said.

Saxton congratulated Tualatin Elementary School for beating the odds by holding its students to a more rigorous academic standard.

“This is the type of focus on and commitment to student achievement that we need to see in all of our schools,” he said.

But Tualatin Elementary will not be resting on its laurels, Kingery said.

“While we have begun to reach our goals, we still have a lot of students who aren’t quite there,” he explained.

In addition to being recognized at the National Title I Conference in San Diego, Calif., in February, Tualatin Elementary will receive $5,000 as part of the award.

That money will likely support the school’s reading intervention program, Kingery said.

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