Colorado K–6 charter school consistently performs above district average

It was 1917 when students first walked through the doors of a little red brick schoolhouse in Lamar, Colorado. Today, that same structure welcomes a fifth generation of students to the Alta Vista Charter School, a K–6 elementary school with its own enduring history of solid performance. Talara Coen has been the Alta Vista administrator and principal since 2000, just two years after it became a charter school. “Every year our students consistently perform above the district average, helping the school routinely achieve a performance rating on the Colorado Department of Education (DOE) School Performance Framework. Most recently, on the state-mandated PARCC testing, where a 50th percentile ranking indicates achievement of learning goals, our students placed in the 82nd percentile ranking in reading and the 88th in math.”

Coen credits such predictably strong academic achievement in part to the longevity of the school’s teaching staff and volunteer programs and its application of an advanced, challenging curriculum. “Many of our educators have worked at the school for nearly twenty years,” she comments. “Tammy Sinka, for example, our librarian and technology/media clerk, started at Alta Vista in 1998, the same year the charter school’s founding board elected to implement Renaissance assessment and practice solutions. Mrs. Sinka’s unfailing enthusiasm—for reading, for technology such as the Renaissance solutions that enable the Alta Vista curriculum, and for motivating students—represents the ethos of our entire school. In addition, many of our board members have served four or five consecutive three-year terms.”

“Every year our students consistently perform above the district average, helping the school routinely achieve a performance rating on the Colorado Department of Education (DOE) School Performance Framework."

Talara Coen
Principal – Alta Vista Charter School

The challenge: support rigorous charter school curriculum and accountability requirements

The Alta Vista Charter School is a member of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, a non-profit organization supporting in-state charter schools. As a Core Knowledge school, Alta Vista follows a curriculum devised to ensure students develop a common foundation of knowledge in language, math, social studies, and science. A scaffolding framework helps educators encourage students to develop increasingly advanced skills.

In designing the Alta Vista Charter School curriculum, the school’s advisory board visited charter schools throughout the state, evaluating instruction programs and their supporting technology. As Coen explains, “The board found that many of the most successful schools were using Renaissance Star Reading® and Renaissance Star Math®, along with Renaissance Accelerated Reader® and Renaissance Accelerated Math®. Based on those findings, the team selected Renaissance, making the solutions available to our teachers and some 60 students who enrolled that inaugural year.”

Coen continues, “Renaissance solutions still reliably meet our needs today, providing the performance data required for school progress and accountability reporting, as well as supporting Alta Vista’s highly customized curriculum that emphasizes reading excellence and a strong skills-based mathematics program.”

“Renaissance solutions still reliably meet our needs today, providing the performance data required for school progress and accountability reporting, as well as supporting Alta Vista’s highly customized curriculum that emphasizes reading excellence and a strong skills-based mathematics program.”

Talara Coen
Principal – Alta Vista Charter School

Ryder

The results: individualized learning and consistently high achievement

Independent learning that drives math success

The data in Renaissance Star Assessments® helps Alta Vista educators set learning goals, guide growth via specific learning progressions, and assign students to instruction and intervention groups. Coen emphasizes the importance of a strong program manager (Sinka has administered the Renaissance solutions since 1998), teacher buy-in, and parental involvement. “Parents serve at least four hours monthly, contributing to advisory boards and curriculum planning, or to fundraising, custodial work, and classroom activities. Every morning, parents read Accelerated Math problems to first- and second-grade students assigned to groups based on ability. While one group stays with the teacher for classroom instruction, another heads to the library, working on math packets individually or with our parent volunteers.”

Accelerated Math lets each student practice independently and at the appropriate level. Coen reports reliable growth across the entire student population, noting that nearly every student achieves one year’s growth in one year’s time, with many getting a head start on the next year’s objectives. She also believes this solid math foundation serves students well in middle school. “Last year, more than half of our graduating sixth-grade students were placed in advanced math classes.”

“Last year, more than half of our graduating sixth-grade students were placed in advanced math classes.”

Talara Coen
Principal – Alta Vista Charter School

Reading excellence—and more

Coen describes similar success with Accelerated Reader. “Just this morning, one of our first grade-students—who happens to be missing his two front teeth—rushed over to tell me that he was already at ‘thwee hundwed pethent!’ And he’s not alone. Still early in the school year, six students have already achieved 300 percent of their Accelerated Reader goals. In fact, during the last quarter of the 2016–2017 school year, 95 percent of the school’s students met their Accelerated Reader goals in support of a previous student diagnosed with cancer. We find that as students experience success with reading, they gain confidence and maturity in other areas. The more engaged they are in these programs, the fewer behavior problems we observe overall. Two years ago, the middle school awarded seven of 12 seventh-grade students Eagle Awards—a program that recognizes excellence in academic achievement, behavior, and extracurricular activities—to former Alta Vista students.”

Coen says that, overall, Alta Vista students thrive personally and academically. “We’re blessed to have an optimistic, dedicated staff and a curriculum that challenges and encourages student achievement. Students develop a real enthusiasm for learning and typically perform strongly on benchmark testing. Last year by the end of the school term, for example, 88 percent of the entire school (112 out of 127 students) met their DIBELS growth goals. On another popular nationally normed test that we typically administer annually, Alta Vista students generally rank 20 or more points above the norm.”

Last year by the end of the school term, for example, 88 percent of the entire school (112 out of 127 students) met their DIBELS growth goals. On another popular nationally normed test that we typically administer annually, Alta Vista students generally rank 20 or more points above the norm.”

Talara Coen
Principal – Alta Vista Charter School

A two-decade track record of charter school success

Family members, former students, teachers, and the community recently came together at the little red brick schoolhouse to celebrate its centennial year of continuous use as a school. The original structure is now registered as a State Historical Site , has been renovated inside, and serves as the entrance to an energy-efficient addition that houses updated computer technology and a gymnasium, funded in part by Colorado DOE Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) and Gates Family Foundation grants.

Currently, some 130 students attend the Alta Vista Charter School. New students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, and the school maintains a five-year waiting list for its kindergarten class. Coen states, “Parents see in Alta Vista an environment that can help struggling learners and, at the other end of the learning spectrum, provide sufficient academic challenge to gifted students. Renaissance is part of our tradition, providing vital solutions that help educators individualize instruction to meet the needs of every student, at every level, so each one develops essential core skills and continues to grow.”

Coen concludes, “For two decades, we’ve relied on Renaissance to support our teachers, ensure curriculum flexibility, and meet the diverse learning needs of K–6 students. We’ve occasionally tested other applications and always stay abreast of education technology. But we stand by the decision we made years ago—Renaissance still provides the best-fit assessment and practice programs for Alta Vista.”

It was 1917 when students first walked through the doors of a little red brick schoolhouse in Lamar, Colorado. Today, that same structure welcomes a fifth generation of students to the Alta Vista Charter School, a K–6 elementary school with its own enduring history of solid performance. Talara Coen has been the Alta Vista administrator and principal since 2000, just two years after it became a charter school. “Every year our students consistently perform above the district average, helping the school routinely achieve a performance rating on the Colorado Department of Education (DOE) School Performance Framework. Most recently, on the state-mandated PARCC testing, where a 50th percentile ranking indicates achievement of learning goals, our students placed in the 82nd percentile ranking in reading and the 88th in math.”

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