The walls and classrooms of Hilton Elementary School in Zillah are adorned with laminated cards to teach children about the letters of the alphabet, cartoon characters teachers choose as the theme of the play, and crafts from paper turkey for the Thanksgiving season.
But the windows of the school office are full of plaques celebrating the school’s many prizes. A large banner outside the building announces a Blue Ribbon award from two years ago.
It’s time to add another price to the list.
Hilton was named a Distinguished School under the National Elementary and Secondary Education Act for the 2021-22 school year.
Schools are chosen by their state’s education agency, in this case the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education in Washington. This year, the state chose two nationally distinguished schools. Nationally, no more than 100 schools can receive the honor in a single year.
“Our teachers are fantastic. They are hard workers. They care about our students and our families, ”said Principal Ryne Phillips. “I think it was just the icing on the cake with this award.”
Schools are selected based on a number of factors, including student enrollment, percentage of students living below the poverty line, continued positive academic trends, and closing the achievement gap.
The award comes with a $ 30,000 prize that the school will spend on professional development training and sending some teachers to a national ESEA conference in February, Phillips said.
A story of excellence
“The accolades are well deserved,” said Zillah Superintendent Doug Burge. “Their passion for children is second to none and we just want to continue the great work in the building. “
Phillips said that after a year and a half of teaching in a pandemic, the award reaffirmed the work teachers and staff have done to keep learning during a difficult time.
After being moved away in March 2020, the school started hybrid classes in October 2020 and resumed full schooling in person in April of this year.
This year’s national honor recognized Hilton for its work in bridging the achievement gap between student groups. Achievement gap refers to the difference in academic performance that often forms between groups of students with different levels of privilege based on factors such as race or household income.
About 54% of Hilton students were considered low income in the 2020-21 academic year, according to its OSPI report card. Almost a quarter of the students were learners of English and almost 5% were considered migrants.
Hilton is a Title I school, which is a federal program that provides additional funding to schools with high levels of students from low-income families, in the hope of providing a more equitable education. According to the OSPI, about one-third of public schools in Washington are Title I.
According to OSPI data, in the 2014-2015 school year, 49% of Hilton students met state grade standards in math and 37.7% met English standards. . In the 2018-19 school year, 82.7% of Hilton students met standards in math and 66% met standards in English.
Washington’s standardized tests were canceled in the 2019-2020 school year due to the pandemic. Testing for the 2020-21 school year has been postponed to fall 2021.
At Hilton, students take a benchmark test in the fall, and those who need additional help are integrated into the Learning Assistance Program, said Phillips, principal since 2016.
“And then we implement an intervention support plan, and ultimately what we want to see through intervention support – both in the classroom or in intensive support outside the classroom – c ‘is the growth at the end of the year, ”he said.
Pam Belton, a kindergarten teacher with 15 years of experience in the district, said closing the achievement gap has been a team effort.
“It’s a combination of our specialists, our (English) teacher, our intervention teacher, the classroom teachers and our principal as well, just making sure all the teachers work together,” a- she declared.
A family environment
The other factor that teachers and staff have highlighted in Hilton’s success is not something that can be tested.
“We are really proud of the relationships with our students and our families,” said Phillips. “It is our foundation.”
Since Hilton serves Zillah’s early years, the connections made at this school lay the groundwork for the next few years in the district, Phillips said.
Second-grade teacher Caren Moritz has worked at Hilton for 30 years. She is already part of her second generation of students, teaching the children of students she taught years ago. She said the Zillah community is strong.
“We communicate a lot with our families just so they know we are seeing what their children need,” she said. “Our conferences are usually close to 100% (attendance), which is amazing that we can speak with every family, now through Zoom or face to face.”
Hilton added additional conferences in fall 2020 to help parents and students adjust to distance learning.
Still, Phillips acknowledged that many area schools prioritize community relations and work hard to close the achievement gap, as does Hilton.
“There are also a lot of schools around us that do the same things we do,” he says. “I would just say from the top of the district… down, in every school in our district, we are strongly committed to engaging with our communities and students. “
Several teachers also said the school maintains a supportive environment for its staff members.
First-grade teacher Denise Reynolds is a former Hilton parent who previously worked as a para-educator at the school. She worked at another school while graduating as a teacher, but returned a few years ago.
“I couldn’t wait to come back here because of the camaraderie of the staff,” she said. “How much the teachers here really care about their students, when sometimes you just don’t see it. “
Second-grade teacher Gail Gregory is in her 31st year at Hilton. She said many of the teachers there have stayed for decades, which creates a deep connection.
“The staff and students at Hilton really make a school family,” she said.