Sandra (Sandi) Jones is the principal of Mangham Elementary School, a small pre-K–5 school in northeastern Louisiana. Jones was recently named Richland Parish Principal of the Year and a 2018 Louisiana Principal of the Year finalist, one of just nine educators to be honored. Each year, the Louisiana Department of Education celebrates educators like Jones who exemplify instructional excellence and dedication in their roles.
Over the past four years, Jones has led renewed efforts to boost achievement, helping Mangham Elementary advance nearly two letter grades on state school performance scores. Jones credits an aggressive response to intervention (RTI) program built in part on Renaissance assessment and practice solutions. “Prior to implementing this program, we struggled with stagnant scores, sometimes seeing only a few tenths of a point improvement over a full year. Since using Renaissance assessment data to help develop our intervention and enrichment plans, our scores have improved dramatically, from a C ranking to within just 1.7 points of an A. Renaissance solutions are interwoven in our success, forming the basis for goal setting, personalized instruction, and the assessment data that’s vital to our RTI program.”
The challenge: Jumpstart achievement in a climate of constant change
Jones has worked at Mangham Elementary for more than twenty years, holding a variety of teaching and administrative positions. She says one of the challenges for educators is dealing with constant change—in standards, testing, curriculum, and even the school’s physical site. “Since I became principal in 2009, we’ve had to accommodate four major changes to our K–2 English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, three changes to grades 3–5 ELA courses, and three updates to our state testing standards. At the same time, we’ve been striving to improve our overall academic performance.”
In addition, the school couldn’t make significant achievement gains relying solely on an RTI program originally implemented as part of a state-mandated school improvement plan. Her plan to improve results included an intensive training session to equip educators with more effective RTI techniques and strategies and the implementation of a benchmarking tool—specifically, Renaissance Star Early Literacy®, Renaissance Star Reading®, and Renaissance Star Math®. The Renaissance assessment solutions, used in conjunction with Renaissance Accelerated Reader® and Renaissance Accelerated Math®, now help educators more precisely monitor progress, identify gaps, and focus instruction to address the needs of each student.
The results: Targeted instruction, higher achievement, and motivated students
Today, educators use Star Assessment data to help group students for remediation in the classroom, make intervention decisions, and guide instruction. The School Building Level Committee also uses the data from Star Assessments for special education testing and grade-retention determinations. Jones says, “In the early stages of our new RTI program, we ran multiple monthly assessments, typically three times per month for students requiring intensive Tier 3 interventions, twice a month for those who needed targeted or supplemental Tier 2-level help, and once a month for students in the Tier 1 instructional program. We schedule assessments just once or twice a month. Educators use their data to review remediation plans during our Students at Risk Star Meetings. Using the reports in Star Assessments, we’re able to monitor trend lines—if performance starts to flatten or drop, we quickly make adjustments and get the student back on track. We simply couldn’t do productive RTI without Star Assessments.”
Because Star Assessment data maps to Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math, educators can also more easily assign appropriate practice activities to help close gaps in skills mastery. “But we’re not just using the Renaissance solutions for remediation,” emphasizes Jones. “Because the solutions provide deep practice at the unique levels each student needs to grow, we’re able to use them for motivation and enrichment. One of our advanced third-grade students, for example, worked all the way up through the seventh-grade math library. I think he even surprised himself with what he could achieve. When he saw his own results, he commented with a bit of disbelief, Well, Mrs. Jones, I guess this is algebra!”
More reading, more learning
Jones says schools in the Richland Parish District are long-time users of Accelerated Reader. This year, students at the district’s 12 schools—five elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools, and one alternative school—are on pace to collectively read more than 50,000 books.
High achievement has always been Jones’s primary goal at Mangham Elementary, but her 420 students will tell you that Jones’ personal dedication has made their shared journey great fun. Matching her students challenge for challenge in math and reading throwdowns, Jones has spent time on the roof, brought her horse to a barbecue, and promised to kiss a pig.
“The incentive programs we develop around Renaissance reading and math objectives really help generate excitement for learning,” says Jones. “A few years back, I challenged students to read 11,000 books. If they did, I’d spend the day up on the roof. By mid-year, that’s where I was! But no one wanted to stop reading, so students came back to me with their own proposal: They’d read another 5,000 books if I’d spend the night on the roof. I did manage to negotiate the number up to 10,000 more books. But by year end, they’d actually read 27,000. So back up on the roof I went—but this time at night, for the entire night.”
As for kissing the pig? “That’s the payoff if they can read another 27,000 books this year,” explains Jones. “I’ve already got a little pot-bellied guy lined up!”
Steady growth and count-on-us support
Jones commends the supportive Mangham Elementary community. “We have a very involved parent-teacher organization that helps fund incentives and our year-end trip for Renaissance Club high achievers. We also have fantastic teachers and staff. I have to say that I actually didn’t spend that night on the roof alone—my assistant came up with me, my husband brought us pizza, and our custodian checked on us throughout the night.”
Jones says the Renaissance solutions have helped Mangham Elementary consistently improve academic achievement, even in an environment of change. “It seems that every year we have a different curriculum, different tests, even different state bonus-point algorithms. This year we’ve had the added challenge of working around constant construction. But our community has pulled together to maintain a learning environment that’s fun. And we’ve implemented programs like the Renaissance solutions to make sure our children are really learning so that they can do well, whatever the testing format.
“In the end, my greatest fear is that our students might think that Mangham Elementary didn’t help them or that we didn’t love them. We do, and we’ll always do our best to make sure they succeed.”