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State Education Officials Commend Elrod Elementary
School receives national award, shares strategies with superintendent
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, left, visits with principal Jeff Hornby in the hall of Elrod Elementary School last week. Elrod was recently named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau visited Kalispell’s Elrod Elementary School on Wednesday, and gave the nationally awarded school credit for its professional communication standards and anti-bullying program.

Elrod was one of several hundred schools across the country to be named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. While two other schools in Montana were nominated for the award, Elrod was the only school to receive the honor.

Blue Ribbon schools are classified as private and public elementary, middle and high schools with students who are high achievers or have significantly closed achievement gaps within the student population.

At Elrod, the students improved their math scores by 50 percent on the state’s Criterion Referenced Test, which is used to determine how the state’s schools are performing under No Child Left Behind standards.

Jeff Hornby, principal at Elrod School, told Juneau his staff has been working well together to implement new math programs and technology, with a focus on making sure the material gets through to all students.

Each classroom has a smartboard and projector so the teachers can use programs to follow their students’ progress, Hornby noted. One program allows students to use remote-like “clickers” to answer questions up on the screen and lets the teacher watch the answers from their own computer screen.

This gives the teacher an idea of who is on track with the lesson and who isn’t, Hornby said.

“Everybody has to be engaged and nobody can be left out,” Hornby said.

Denise Juneau, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, watches as Sharon Sinclair, left, gets students Mark Holderbaum, Schafer Bungay and Gabriel LaCroix, from left, started on recording the daily weather podcast at Elrod Elementary School.

Teachers also have time set aside during the school week to meet and discuss what is working and what isn’t, Hornby said. Juneau said she was pleased by this strategy.

“That’s the Number One thing teachers say they want, is time to talk,” Juneau said.

Elrod uses time at the end of early release days for these meetings and professional development, a communication strategy that all of District 5 is working on very pointedly, said Superintendent Darlene Schottle.

Juneau noted that the state is working on developing a comprehensive professional development system for its teachers, because having time to gather, touch base and talk about their craft “is huge.”

A group of teachers from other schools was also visiting Elrod on Wednesday watching other teachers’ instructing practices, which Juneau said helps build a more successful school district.

While touring the school, officials pointed out anti-bullying signs made by students and by the administration. Juneau noted that she has seen similar steps taken at schools across the state.

“I think the anti-bullying program that they have in place is great,” Juneau said, adding that the presence of technology in the classroom was also remarkable.

Hornby noted that the school underwent a curriculum transformation when he was hired in 2004, allowing teachers to employ technological strategies.

Juneau called that an effective way to work with the younger generation, since they are growing up in a technologically saturated world.

“That’s really the connecting force between students and learning,” Juneau said.

Hornby also credited parent involvement in his students’ success, an aspect the school has tried to reinforce through family events, such as astronomy night or game nights during the fall.

And while he is certain Elrod still has room for academic improvement, Hornby believes access to new technology and having an adaptable staff opens the school up for many successful possibilities.

“All the options that we have with the Internet, I can’t even put my finger on where we can go,” Hornby said.
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