“‘Learning Is Actually Happening’: 4 Years Later, Schools Of Promise See Gains”

This story was published in the Billings Gazette May 18, 2014.

On a recent weekday, Plenty Coups High School freshman Dani Buffalo sat at his laptop working on an algebra problem in his Integrated Math I class.

Unsure how to work with absolute-value functions, he looked to teacher Ed Wiest for help. Wiest, standing next to Dani’s desk, talked him through the calculations.

At first puzzled, the youth’s face lit up when he got the right answer.

Asked how that made him feel, Dani smiled.

“It felt smart,” he said.

That’s a small triumph for a school that not long ago was the fourth lowest-performing school in Montana. Now, Plenty Coups High is ranked 21st, and all six of its seniors will graduate this spring and plan to go to college.

Four years after several of the state’s lowest performing schools agreed to take part in Schools of Promise — a state-driven initiative funded by a $11.4 million federal grant — the schools have seen some progress.

The goal, said Denise Juneau, Montana superintendent of schools, is to increase literacy and math skills and to prepare students for their next steps. But, that old adage, it takes a village to raise a child, applies here.

“When I walk into those schools, I see students bustling around, in classrooms they’re more engaged and excited about some of the work they’re doing,” Juneau said. “I think the school climate has definitely improved.”

Juneau sees school leaders more closely interacting with school boards. She sees communities coming together with the schools, fewer discipline referrals and greater respect among students and adults.

“Learning is actually happening,” she said. “I think all of those are really things to celebrate.”

The proof is in the results. The number of students at or above proficiency has increased at all the Title I schools that began in the lowest 5 percent.

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