Principal discusses exciting changes for elementary school

  Exciting things are in store for Chester Elementary School students as they enter the 2013-14 school year. Possibly one of the most exciting is the increase in students.

  According to Principal Sally McGowan, 30 new students have registered at CES this year. The increase is made up of students transferring from Lassen County Office of Education schools, and moving here from Reno, Chico and Placerville. The 2012-13 school year ended with 177 students enrolled and enrollment has since increased to more than 200 students.

  “Instead of declining our enrollment, we are increasing our enrollment; our school is growing!” said McGowan.

  Third-grade teacher John Goolsby and McGowan both expressed their hopes that this is a sign of economic recovery for the Lake Almanor Basin.

Teachers and classes

  The opening that fifth-grade teacher Pam Birdsall left when she retired at the end of the year was not expected to be filled this year. Instead, the fifth-grade class was going to be split in two and combined into a fourth/fifth-grade class and a fifth/sixth-grade class. With the increased enrollment, however, the school was able to hire a new fifth-grade teacher, which took away the need for split classrooms.

  First-grade teacher Janet McCoy took a leave of absence for this year only.

  “Both Janet and Pam were longtime beloved teachers. They will be greatly missed,” said McGowan.

  Replacement teachers for both the fifth- and first-grade classes have been hired, pending board approval. While approval is pending, McGowan is unable to reveal their identities. The next Plumas Unified School District board of directors meeting will be held the day after school starts: Sept. 5.

  “I, along with our interview team, are very excited about our two new teachers, and the talent and energy they will bring to our instructional team,” said McGowan.

  The increased enrollment added an additional 10 kindergarten students, which triggered the need for an additional kindergarten class. A total of 40 kindergarteners will be split between Christine Delucchi’s class, and incoming teacher Ryan Miller’s class.

  Miller is a graduate of Sonoma State University and has a background in professional baseball. This will be his second year of teaching.

  Due to continued support from the community, art and music classes will still be offered. As in previous years, Plumas Arts will fund the school art program; the district is funding one period of fifth/sixth-grade band per day, taught by Jane Brown; and together the Lake Almanor Women’s Golf Association and the parent-teacher association will fund kindergarten through fourth-grade music, with accompanist Lori Metcalf.

  “We are hustling to get that money and the community is so supportive,” said McGowan.

School goals

  Chester Elementary School’s Guiding Coalition committee is in the process of creating an action plan to raise the academic performance of all students to the level of performance goals established under the California Academic Performance Index.

  The committee is made up of the principal and two school groups: the Leadership Team, consisting of four teachers currently including Goolsby and Cindy Culver; and the Site Council, which is a parent group consisting of Jacque Ricci, Troy Casey, Judith Finkbeiner, Mark Miller and Colleen Garrett.

  The coalition is responsible for making decisions relative to school goals, instituting the actions necessary to meet those goals and approving the expenditures to help reach the set goals.

  Members are currently analyzing student assessment data to determine whether those performance goals are being met. McGowan said that under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, every child is required to achieve a score of proficient or advanced on the California Standardized Test by the 2014-15 school year.

  The Single Plan for Student Achievement, as mentioned above, describes what actions will be taken in order to help all students reach the target of proficient or advanced.

  Furthermore, McGowan said that with the adoption of the Common Core State Standard, the 2013-14 school year is a transition year in California and 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

  The CCS has been in the process for many years, but by the 2014-15 school year, all schools in California are responsible for implementing the standards.

  McGowan said the new standards differ from current content standards by their level of rigor, emphasis on critical and analytical thinking, and the goal of providing each student with the 21st-century skills necessary for competing in a global economy.

  The CCS website at provided specific points of information regarding the new standards:

  They are “aligned with college and work expectations.”

  They “are clear, understandable and consistent.”

  The “include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills.”

  They “build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards.”

  They “are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society.”

  “We are excited about the standards and are prepared to meet this challenge,” said McGowan.

  McGowan and CES teachers are working on implementing a technology aspect in the teaching method in order to provide a more modern education. Beginning next year, pen and paper tests will no longer be used. Rather, students will be testing on computers. This being the case, a standard of using more technology in the classes is to be expected.

  As of last year, teachers had already begun using iPads along with their instruction. It is McGowan’s goal to eventually put an iPad in the hand of every student in order to expand on the use of modern educational practices.

  The special education program will also have electronic assistive devices for students with specific learning disabilities.

  “We are really working towards becoming a 21st-century school,” said McGowan.

  Other goals for this year include improving the transition from preschool into kindergarten and from sixth grade into junior high school; increasing parent involvement in the school; and ensuring a safe and healthy learning environment.

  In line with the last goal, administrative staff has written a comprehensive safety plan that includes emergency action plans and procedures for natural disasters and the threat of school shootings.

  McGowan also related her excitement about the school’s Learning Landscapes program, which is funded by some of the Storrie Fire settlement monies. Through this program, teachers will make greater use of outdoor classrooms and have been trained in ways to integrate more outdoor education and environmental awareness in the content areas of literature, science and history.

  “I am so proud of the achievements of our school, the dedication of our teachers and how much support we get from our community,” said McGowan.

  McGowan said CES met its growth target in all 13 areas on the California Standards Test.

  The school’s combined test results grew by 25 points compared to the previous year. Due to this improvement, CES showed progress in moving its students from scoring at the below-proficient level to the proficient level, which makes them eligible for safe harbor, an alternate method of meeting the Annual Measurable Objective.

  “CES teachers and students worked hard to master the content standards and demonstrate their knowledge on the test and were successful,” McGowan said. “We made the growth necessary to stay out of Program Improvement under NCLB; more importantly, our students learned they could set learning goals and achieve them with the support of their teachers and staff members.”

PTA, safety and portal

  The PTA already has an exciting year of events planned for CES, including its traditional fall jog-a-thon, educational school assemblies, the book fair and the aforementioned music program.

  McGowan urges all parents to join the PTA membership in support of CES. She said the PTA board and its membership are responsible for a great deal of fundraising and provide a huge amount of support to both teachers and students.

  “Whether you can volunteer your time or not, the $5.50 membership goes a long way to the support of our children,” said McGowan.

  The PTA membership drive will be held during Back to School night Sept. 24. The exact time is still to be determined.

  McGowan also reminds all parents and visitors to sign in at the office before proceeding into the classrooms or any other location on campus. “We need to know who is here in order to keep our students, teachers, and community safe,” she said.

  Student information can be accessed through the Parent Portal at Fliers were sent out last year containing registration information. Those who have not yet registered and are in need of access information should request it from the office. In addition to providing test scores, disciplinary action and personal information, the portal provides access to the Parent Student Handbook, which will not be available in print this year.

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