Leechburg Area school gains state recognition for achievement on standardized tests
Leechburg Area School District officials say they've been shifting the district's focus to cater more to individual students' needs this school year and it's working .
David Leech Elementary School received the Title I Distinguished School award from the Division of Federal Programs at the state Department of Education.
It's an award given to the highest achieving Title I schools in the state.
“I'm so proud of the teachers and students for working so hard,” district Superintendent Tiffany Nix said. “I was thrilled.”
Rather than just having a Title I program, the elementary school is designated as a Title I school, so all of the 400 children in kindergarten through sixth grade have a chance to receive extra instruction in reading and language arts.
To qualify as a Title I school, it must have at least 40 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
To get the award, a school must be in the top 5 percent of Title I schools based on standardized test scores. It also must close the achievement gap in math or reading and for historically under-performing students.
Title I teachers Jessica Manofsky and Jennifer Turner work with students on two levels. First, they spend time with all students for one class period. Students break down into small groups based on their specific needs and work on things like vocabulary, phonics and comprehension.
“It's nice to go into the classrooms because we're able to collaborate,” Manofsky said.
The second level is for students who need more concentrated instruction. Those students are taken out of the regular classroom to spend additional time with the specialists.
“We're able to work with them over a longer period of time,” she said. “You do have a different relationship with them.”
Parent Kimberly Sturgeon said she has seen an improvement in her daughter's reading skills since 10-year-old Rubie began working with Turner this year.
“She's given my daughter the self-esteem and the encouragement to continue reading and continue to do better,” Sturgeon said.
School Principal Dave Keibler said there's a focus on early intervention for students in kindergarten through second grade to ensure they don't end up too far behind as they move through the grades.
“Any child that struggles early with reading, most times struggles for the rest of their life,” he said. “If a child can't blend or decode, they can't reach comprehension.”
Keibler said another reason for the school's success this year is aligning the curriculum to the Common Core curriculum. It's the second school year the district has aligned its math and reading curriculum to Common Core.
He hopes to take this year's success and continue to improve.
“It's a constant conversation of trying to assess what we're doing,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to create that environment where every child is maximizing every second of the day.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.