The mere suggestion of a trip to the principal’s office can strike fear into the hearts of elementary students. But at Lexington Elementary School in southern Indiana, that response seems rather old school, harkening back to a time before reading-goal parties and Math Bowls and blue ribbons and administrators in Batman capes. Today, Lexington Elementary students are more likely to initiate encounters with their principal, eager to share progress on goals or hoping to elicit details about an upcoming contest.
Principal-led programs and celebrations are just part of the winning formula that has helped Lexington Elementary students thrive. As chief encourager and supporter, the school’s principal leads a collaborative effort that brings together students, educators, and the local community in a hugely successful academic program. Located in Lexington Township in one of the poorest counties in Indiana, the school, remarkably, boasts some of the state’s highest standardized test scores. Most recently, the school earned recognition as a 2016 Exemplary High Performing School under the United States Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, an honor bestowed on just 302 schools from a field of tens of thousands. Based on merit, National Blue Ribbon awards go to less than one percent of America’s public schools.
Lexington Elementary Principal Nick South says that Renaissance® solutions contribute to the school’s track record of success. “Renaissance technologies inform instruction and serve as the foundation of many of our most successful programs. We’ve been using Renaissance applications for nearly two decades—by design, because they’ve been proven to deliver the desired classroom results.”
The challenge: Continued high achievement and growth
Chuck Rose, principal at Lexington Elementary for 16 years and now the Scott County School District 2 director of elementary education, says Lexington Elementary adopted the Renaissance Accelerated Reader® application in 2000. With his arrival there in 2002, Rose helped revitalize the program. “To foster more reading with greater comprehension, we designed reading contests around Accelerated Reader, announcing program details and goals at an assembly at the start of the school year. We motivated students and rewarded success with individual point club prizes throughout the year and a variety of activities at the end of each grading period. Rewards included karaoke and DJ-hosted music events, extra recess, build-your-own ice cream sundae socials, and a grand prize celebration on the last day of school upon achievement of the year-long reading goal.”
South says the positive impact was immediate. “Students simply blossomed. Our reading scores have always been strong, but adopting Accelerated Reader as the cornerstone of our reading incentive structure drove scores even higher. Point goals in the early years averaged around 30,000. This year we’re on track to exceed 50,000.”
The results: Excitement, high scores, and a culture of achievement
Bulletin boards throughout Lexington Elementary reflect this year’s Accelerated Reader “Great Ticket Robbery” theme. Pinned tokens illustrate progress toward the school-wide point goal that, if achieved, will earn everyone a field trip to the movies on the last day of school. “Sheriff” South leads the charge to recover stolen movie tickets from Bad Bart, a “thief of honor” who has agreed to trade his pilfered tickets for Accelerated Reader points.
During his tenure at Lexington Elementary, Rose sportingly donned a caped Batsuit, impersonated an earthling threatened with capture by space aliens, and played a host of other point-saving characters, all for the very worthy causes of reading achievement and growth. “Students and teachers alike get caught up in the fun of reaching goals. Our success with Accelerated Reader has also spawned other beneficial programs, including Reading Buddies (which pairs fourth- and fifth-graders with emergent readers) and the highly competitive Math Bowl.”
South coaches the Math Bowl team that’s open to fourth- and fifth-graders. He uses the Renaissance Accelerated Math® program in the selection of the 12-student team and to generate practice problems—typically at sixth- through eighth-grade skill levels—in preparation for the statewide competition. “From a population of some 65 students, tryouts typically draw 20 or more hopefuls vying for a coveted spot—that’s the interest you’d more likely see for a basketball squad than an academic team.” To date, Lexington Elementary Math Bowl teams have won the regional competition nine times, including a three-year run from 2013 to 2015.”
South first used Accelerated Math in his days as a fifth-grade teacher, noting that one of the program’s most valuable resources is an academic library of 170-plus standards-focused objectives. “Students routinely master all of those objectives and more. Such positive results mirror the success of our Accelerated Reader program, although we created a separate rewards structure called Math Masters. The ‘trophy’ is a white-paneled basketball—this is Indiana, after all—printed with our school logo. At the end of each week, I dribble the basketball down the hall to the class that earned the most points and that will keep custody of the trophy until points are tallied again the following week.
“In four of the past six years, 90 percent of Lexington Elementary students demonstrated proficiency in Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) math testing. For the past five years, approximately 50 percent of those students scored a Pass+, the highest level of proficiency on the ISTEP test.
“It’s important not to overcomplicate education or fall victim to the cult of the new,” continues South. “Although we routinely evaluate emerging technologies, we focus on a few critical applications that deliver maximum value. Our teachers are among the best educators in the nation, and we want to equip them with the best programs, leverage best practices, and apply solutions with fidelity.
“Renaissance solutions support our requirements for differentiated instruction, and the assessment data links our application set,” Rose points out. “Beginning with Renaissance Star Early Literacy®, teachers leverage Renaissance Star 360® analytics to develop individual learning plans, monitor progress, and track student growth percentiles. Renaissance data routinely serves as the starting point for our response to intervention and overall school improvement team meetings.”
“Renaissance solutions are ingrained in our culture of commitment to excellence,” concludes Rose. “District administrators, teachers, local civic, business, and religious leaders—it’s a community that takes pride in a history of achievement, deeply cares about students, is dedicated to seeing each succeed, and steps up wherever needed. This year, for example, the Parent Teacher Organization will fully fund our end-of-year movie outing.
“As another, even more impactful example, a few years back we recognized a concerning preparedness gap between kindergartners who had the benefit of attending a preschool and those whose families did not have the financial means to send them. Our community came together to form a 501(c) organization to operate the Good Faith Preschool, free to any child in Lexington Township, funded entirely by donations (from individuals, churches, and local service organizations), housed in a donated building, and staffed by volunteers. During the early planning stages, one stay-at-home mother—who happened to be a licensed early educator—approached me, asking, ‘How can I help?’ For the past five years, she has donated two afternoons every week to teach Good Faith preschoolers.”
“That’s Lexington in a nutshell,” says South. “I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be.”