All the public schools in Pacific Palisades improved their Academic Performance Index (API) scores this year except Palisades Charter Elementary, according to results released by the California Department of Education last Thursday. Palisades Elementary dropped by 11 points to a score of 904, but still exceeded the state standard of 800. ‘Of course, every school is disappointed when its score goes down a little bit,’ said principal Joan Ingle. ‘We are going to focus more on the kids that need extra help. Being in the 900 club is good, but of course we want to keep growing.’ The staff plans to target students who require individual attention and provide more one-on-one and small group instruction. Ingle attributed the API decline partially to the changes in leadership this spring, when principal Tami Weiser unexpectedly resigned. ‘Now, we have a solid, stable leadership,’ Ingle said. She added that she is impressed with the high API scores of all Palisades schools, and said it’s a testament to dedicated parents. API measures every public schools progress from year to year and is based on test results from the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). API scores range from 200 to 1,000 with the goal that all schools statewide reach 800. All the Palisades schools made No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which measures whether students are scoring at the proficient level or above. CANYON ELEMENTARY Canyon Elementary School posted the highest API score of the schools with 938, nine points higher than last year. Principal Carol Henderson attributes the improvement to her teachers who consistently challenge themselves to improve their craft. ‘It’s a lot of hard work on behalf of the staff,’ Henderson said. ‘We really work hard together to reflect on our practice and collaborate to find new and improved ways to meet the needs of our students. For every decision we make, we ask ourselves ‘How will this benefit the children?’ We are very fortunate to also have the support of our parents and community in our endeavors to raise the bar.’ MARQUEZ ELEMENTARY Marquez Charter Elementary School improved its API score by nine points to 879. ‘All in all, last year was an exceptional year, being named California Distinguished School,’ said principal Phillip Hollis, who came aboard two years ago. ‘I am very proud of the gains we have made.’ Striving for more improvement, Hollis plans to expand the CATCH (Caring Adults Teaching Children How) program to include third- through fifth-grade students. Last year in the program’s first year, the school did not include the fourth grade. CATCH volunteers work with at-risk students one-on-one. ‘Marquez looks at each and every child individually,’ Hollis said. ‘If a child is judged to be at-risk, scoring basic, below basic or far below basic, he or she is immediately recognized and brought to an individual teacher’s attention.’ Two other schools in the Palisades Charter Complex also had good results. Kentor Canyon Elementary improved by six points to 924 and Topanga Charter Elementary by four points to 904. PAUL REVERE MIDDLE Paul Revere Charter Middle School realized the most significant improvement, increasing its API performance by 20 points to 837. ‘When I look at scores like this, it points to wonderful teachers, supportive parents and students who take testing seriously,’ said principal Fern Somoza, who succeeds Art Copper. Since coming aboard this summer, Somoza has found that teachers work together as a team on curriculum, and parents help with hiring staff, the budget, fundraising and more. All the Revere subgroups (which are minority, economically disadvantaged and special-education students) improved except for English learners, whose scores dropped by five points to 721. ‘We hope to help the students who are in the subgroups catch up,’ Somoza said. ‘Although they improved, there is still that achievement gap that we need to close.’ The middle school’s white and Asian students outperformed other ethnic populations. Revere had higher scores than John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, Emerson Middle School in Westwood and Palms Middle School in Los Angeles but fell below Santa Monica’s Lincoln Middle School, which scored 880. PALISADES HIGH Palisades Charter High School improved its API score by 16 points to 797, just shy of the statewide goal. ‘I’m very excited about the progress we made, and we have a relentless commitment to keep pushing and continuing that growth,’ said Executive Director Amy Dresser-Held. Granada Hills Charter High School, which is larger than PaliHi but has similar demographics, posted a higher score of 813. Nearby Venice High School, University High and Santa Monica High (all with diverse populations) posted lower scores than PaliHi. Dresser-Held thinks test scores improved at her school because students are required to take placement tests to ensure they are in the appropriate classes. Teachers who instruct the same subject matter also participate in professional learning communities, where they collaborate and learn from each other, which means they’re continually improving their skills. The students with disabilities population also made significant gains from 546 to 589 this year. Mary Bush, director of special education, attributes that success to dedicated special-education teachers and a summer reading program that helps prepare students for more rigorous classes during the school year. In addition, special-ed teachers work with general-education teachers in the classroom to offer additional support. ‘It’s the teamwork at Pali that has made us successful,’ Bush said. Hispanic students increased their score by 36 points to 734 and the economically disadvantaged students improved by 34 points to 748. However, African Americans slipped by two points to 684. Faculty and parents attended a training session this summer for Village Nation at UCLA, which may help boost African-American achievement, Dresser-Held said. ‘It’s modeled after the African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and focuses on encouraging students to make better choices, redefining success for kids and providing them with motivational speakers, assemblies and field trips,’ she said. PaliHi staff is also attempting to diversify its honors and advanced placement (AP) classes. Among the many ways staff will recruit for AP classes, one will be to look at how students performed on the PSAT. The school started offering introductory courses to AP classes this fall. ‘Sometimes these kids who are not making it need to be challenged more and have access to more rigor,’ Dresser-Held said.
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