Presentation of certificate

District celebrates WJHS staff and administrators for score gains

By Michelle Cook

The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) announced Sept. 9 that Winnemucca Junior High 7th graders demonstrated the “most dramatic gain” of any group in the state during the 2018-2019 school year on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The school led the pack with a 7.18 percentage point increase to 45% in the English Language Arts (ELA), and a 9.27 percentage point increase in its proficiency rate to 46.25%.

Humboldt County District Assistant Superintendent Dawn Hagness said NDE wanted to know how and why this happened.  Hagness pointed out the board of trustees’ commitment to investing money into quality curriculum. Second, because of the district’s relationship with the state of Nevada, the district received last minute grant funding. Third, the trustees had conceived of and implemented a strategic plan which took advantage of opportunities became available. 

“So, our teachers got high quality curriculum in their hands,” Hagness said. “It's intense; it's unlike anything they've ever used before and our kids performed.” 

In addition to quality curriculum, teachers, staff and administrators received intentional professional development. “Last spring, one of our English teachers took training prior to the getting the curriculum. All of the teachers went through training right before school in that department and then we had additional training through the year,” Hagness said. “There's been support along the way.”

Hagness said administrators received weekly coaching with district personnel with Noel Morton. A coach was available through Achievement Network, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support for school districts 

Hagness said the district has worked to build a culture of guaranteed learning by creating systems to support the district’s schools. These systems include not only training but also timing mechanisms such as pacing guides for when to teach lessons and assessment guidance on what the expectations are. 

Without the support and leadership, however, the best curriculum is useless. Hagness said Vice Principal Laura Molini instigated a culture of commitment from the junior high’s staff. “There wasn't going to be a let-up moment,” Hagness said.  “So, when you take committed leadership and you add that with committed teachers and add high quality curriculum, great things happen and this is a perfect example of great things happening in our district.” 

In closing, Hagness noted an important piece to the success of the junior high’s ELA program the co-teaching and inclusion model.  “The classroom teacher could be gone and in many of those cases the special education teacher, who is also in that room, can take over the lesson so there's not a loss in instruction. That's a powerful piece of two people working together in the best interest of the students in the room.”