White Sands School has a reason to celebrate after receiving a final “A” grade in their School Grade Report Card from the New Mexico Public Education Department for the 2014-2015 school year.
“Right before Christmas break White Sands School received its grade for the 2014-2015 school year and we received an ‘A’ grade,” said school Principal Thomas Bulger. “Really a big strong ‘A’.”
The school scored “A”s on each of the different categories except for one, where they received a “B” grade. Last year the school received an overall “B” grade.
“This was a great improvement from last year,” Bulger said. “We had a 20 point improvement over last year’s ‘B’ grade. So we went from a ‘B’ to an ‘A’ this year.”
The School Grade Report Card system, which has been in place for five years, measures school growth and improvement by using in part yearly Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test scores. Each school in New Mexico receives a grade.
Schools are graded on the following: current standing, which measures how well students performed in the most recent school year; school growth, which measures how much this year’s students improved over last year’s; student growth of highest performing students, which measures how well the school helped the highest performing individual students improve; student growth of lowest performing students, which measures how well the school helped the lowest performing individual students improve; and opportunity to learn, which measures whether the school fosters an environment that facilitates learning.
Schools also receive bonus points, which measures whether the school shows exceptional aptitude for involving students and parents in education, reducing truancy, and promoting extracurricular activities.
The most significant improvement was in the area of Student Growth of Lowest Performing Students, where the school had received an “F” grade in the previous year. The school was able to bring that grade up to a “B”.
“We are very proud of our efforts,” Bulger said. He said there were five other schools in the Las Cruces Public Schools District that received “A”s.
“We know that White Sands School is in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state of New Mexico,” Bulger said. “So we are happy about that. Our growth trajectory over the last six years has been positive, the trend has been going up.”
Bulger said they were able to raise their grade in the Student Growth of Lowest Performing Students area by identifying each of those students they call “bottom core tile” or the bottom 25 percent in each classroom.
“We looked at the data that we could look at to see where they were needing help and then devised a plan on how we were going to give them help in those areas,” Bulger said.
Bulger said they helped students by tutoring them and even recruited the Middle School and Teen program to help students during homework hour.
“We made it our primary focus area for last year to make sure the students who needed to show improvement got the help they needed, and they did show improvement. So we are happy about that.”
Bulger said their challenge for this year is to maintain the focus.
“We celebrate because we have everything that we can be proud of, it also means that we need to continue doing what we are doing, focusing and understanding that we have to make every day great,” Bulger said.
Bulger credits the staff for helping students improve and be successful.
“We have a tremendous staff who I can’t be more proud of every single day. They make everyday a day that counts for kids. At the end of the grading period and the end of the school year.”
Bulger also credits the students for their hard work and dedication. He said the school also received bonus points for giving students opportunities to work with their community. One of the things they recently did was give out care packages to the homeless as part of the gifted students program, which is headed by School Counselor Sandra Nuñez and AES Director Liz Winterrowd.
Bulger said the WSMR community is also credited for helping the school succeed. During the school drive to collect toiletries members of the community donated travel size toiletries and put them in baggies to give to the homeless in Las Cruces.
Bulger said the grade is really based on one assessment and that is the PARCC test, the end of the year test. Only students in grades 3 to 8 take the test each year at White Sands School, and up to 11th grade across the state. Students are tested in math and English in the test.
Students received their individual report cards to take home to parents earlier this month. Talk to your child or contact the school if you haven’t seen your child’s.
Bulger said they look at each student’s individual report card and focus on where the students need to improve. Anything that is level 3, 4 or 5 is considered a good score for the PARCC. Bulger said 80 percent of their students scored in that category.
There are couple of things the school does to make sure students excel. One is that they put a lot of emphasis on writing. Bulger said the PARCC test is a test that really changed the way they test kids and a part of that is that they have to demonstrate what they know. Student have to demonstrate what they know through writing even in the math part of the test where they have to explain how they got their answer.
Nuñez, who has two children of her own at the school, said that teachers also push the students to do well and motivate them to do their best. “I know that a lot of teachers push them to an extent that they know they can be successful,” she said.
“The other thing also is that we have great community support,” Nuñez said. “We invite community support in every way and we have great parent involvement and great community involvement. I think that helps with the atmosphere here to encourage the kids to do their best.”
Nuñez said students are proud of their school. “I think the students who are here like being here. We have kids transfer here from other schools and I often hear student say they enjoy and like being here.”
Bulger said the school also has a great Parent Teacher Association program and parents always volunteer in every way they can to support the school and the students.
“They feel welcome to come and help out,” he said.
Bulger mentioned that the PTA will be organizing the next Family Science Night at the school Feb. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Bulger said they also have a great partnership with MST, which has taken over the robotics program and provided the venue for the robotics program and competitions.
Bulger said White Sands School has built a reputation for being a good school and often gets inquiries about how they have been able to be successful.
Many parents with no affiliation to WSMR make the drive back and forth so their children can attend because they know that it is a great school.