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Kennedy sees progress after first year of turnaround efforts at Willmar elementary school

WILLMAR -- The staff and students at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar started the school year with some good news.

Results are still preliminary, but test scores indicate that the school improved in a number of areas in last spring's state testing. Final Adequate Yearly Progress results will be released in early October.

Kennedy has been under state orders to improve. It's classified as a Priority School which places it in the lowest 5 percent of Minnesota schools in student achievement and achievement gap. The school has been eligible for federal grants to help turn around its performance.

Principal Todd Goggleye said the school was not making Adequate Yearly Progress in 9 of 14 categories two years ago. This year, indications are that the school will make AYP in 11 of 14 categories. AYP is the measurement of school progress in math and reading under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

"Our teachers are excited," he said. "We're doing some really good things."

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the staff should be pleased with its progress.

"The staff went the extra mile," he said. "I'd put what we did against anybody else."

Kjergaard praised the school's leadership and staff — "People have worked very hard."

Somali students who are new to the country face the greatest challenges, Goggleye said. Some of them arrive with their families from refugee camps and don't speak any English, he said.

Students are placed in a variety of categories to determine AYP. For Kennedy, it appears the groups struggling most are black students in math and reading and special education students in reading.

The school used its federal grant money last year to develop an instructional program called Response to Intervention, which uses daily intense small-group instruction to address the needs of all students. While some groups work on basic concepts, others may be doing more advanced work, and students move from one group to another based on their needs and abilities.

Kennedy used Response to Intervention for reading last year; this year math will be added.

"We had great results in math already," Goggleye said, and he expects that to continue and grow. "The new literacy will support the math."

The school also plans to build on its literacy success and to start a new beginners program for students who arrive with no English skills.

The district is using Title I funds and other funding to provide similar services at Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar. Roosevelt is also under state orders to improve, but it isn't eligible for the federal grant.

Goggleye said Kennedy has set goals for more academic growth this year.

"The whole staff has to buy into it," and that has happened, he said. "The results are showing."

Others on the Priority School list have asked to visit Kennedy to observe the staff's work, he said. In fact, so many have asked that some have been turned down because the Kennedy staff doesn't have the time.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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