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Sandy elementary school staff, students embrace 'growth mindset' into the future

PMG FILE PHOTO - Sandy Grade school has skyrocketed from the bottom 10% to the top 20% of schools over the past few years.

Though not always the highest achiever in the Oregon Trail School District, Sandy Grade School has become the comeback kid in recent years with academic testing.

In March, the elementary school received national recognition for its excellence in standardized testing and academic achievement, by being named a 2019 model school. Sandy Grade was one of seven elementary schools, and 18 schools overall, to earn the title from the International Center for Leadership in Education.

After several years of academic growth and the school's overall improvement, the Sandy Grade has rocketed from the bottom 10% to the top 20% of schools, with one of the highest growth rates in the state, changing the narrative for the school.

In 2016, Sandy Grade received the Oregon's Whole Child award in recognition of the school's work to "provide a healthy, safe, engaging, supported and challenging learning environment for all students."

"At the end of my first year, the staff asked me how long I was going to stay," noted Dr. Rachael George, principal. "I said five years." However, George said, she's not done yet. "We want to change to ingrain those (techniques we've implemented)," she explained. "We're gearing up for a path of continued academic excellence. I'm looking forward to that journey."

In June, George, accompanied by teachers Jami Barnicoat and Cassiday Hopkins and Superintendent Aaron Bayer, attended the International Center for Leadership in Education national conference in Washington, D.C., where they were honored guests and speakers.

"I don't think any of us really recognized the magnitude of this award until the conference," George told The Post. "We're extremely proud. The teachers have been really intentional about their practices. They're changing the game of education for kids. I wish we could have taken everyone on staff because it was everybody's work who earned us this award."

The conference welcomed 5,000 schools, and few had the opportunity to present.

"It was very intimidating, but also a huge honor," George noted. "Presenting and sharing our story was really reaffirming. We got consistent feedback, saying people loved the steps we took, how we sought high levels of engagement among students. To be able to provide support for those schools was really powerful."

George said, "A lot of other model schools had followed a similar path" as Sandy Grade, overcoming years of hardship to rise to a national level of excellence in academic growth. She added that as a school, Sandy Grade plans to "continue (its) academic growth (and) refine systems and structures."

"It typically takes about five to seven years to see improvement, and we did it in four," George noted. "We're still not done yet. There are still things to improve on. We have 60% passing math and reading in state tests, and we're not going to settle for that. All means all. And that's going to take some work to get to."

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