Roesland Elementary earns big honor for closing the achievement gap among students

Roesland Elementary is one of just 100 schools in the country selected for the honor from NAESPA.

When word went out Monday morning that Roesland Elementary would be having an impromptu all-school assembly in a few hours, students and teachers had not idea what to expect.

But any nerves were quickly relieved when principal Jennifer Woolever made her announcement: Roesland was one of just 100 schools in the country to be honored for its students academic success. Specifically, Roesland has been especially adept at closing the so-called achievement gap between student groups.

Roesland Elementary students gathered for a surprise assembly on Monday. Submitted photo.

The National Association of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) chooses two schools in each state every year as National ESEA Distinguished Schools. Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson informed Roesland and O’Loughlin Elementary in Hays that they were the to honorees from Kansas this year.

Roesland, which qualifies as a Title I school based on the number of children enrolled in free- and reduced-lunch programs, has a relatively high concentration of economically disadvantaged students and students who are English language learners. Both student groups that have traditionally performed below their peers on measures of academic performance. Roesland, however, has succeeded in seeing more and more of its free- and reduced-lunch and ELL students improving their scores on tests that measure academic comprehension.

Kellie Gillespie, who has had students at Roesland for the past 10 years, said the honor was evidence of the dedication of the faculty.

“It’s a testament to the teachers, staff, and principal — who tirelessly devote their time, effort, energy, and money to their students day in and day out — that Roesland received this distinction,” Gillespie said. “Roesland students feel safe and loved and that powerfully affects their academic success.”

Woolever, who came to Roesland three years ago after serving as an administrator in the Piper School District, attributes the school’s successes to the diligence of its teachers. She said the implementation of professional learning communities two years ago was a key part of improving test scores that had been stagnant.

Through the PLC initiative, teachers from a grade level will meet for an hour once a week with the school’s instructional coach and reading specialist to review data on student performance and to share strategies for improving comprehension. The PLCs also give Roesland teachers the chance to swap ideas for personalized learning approaches for students who may be struggling with a particular concept.

“Through the PLCs, teachers are able to use data to inform what they’re doing in the classroom,” Woolever said. “They also share ideas for meeting kids where they are, even if that means reteaching areas or going back to older materialIt’s a lot of work at first. But once you see the results, the buy in is there.”

She also credits the community members, many of them from nearby churches, who volunteer to tutor Roesland students after school.

Roesland leaders will have the chance to share some of their successes and learn about the successes of other National ESEA Distinguished Schools at the group’s annual conference next year, which includes a three-day workshop.