Gold Star School

Commissioner: Oak Grove a ‘Gold Star’ of success in Missouri’s schools
Posted on 08/12/2019
Gabby Bullock engages in a guided reading exercise with outgoing first grader Carmen McCrary.

Oak Grove Elementary School was the only educational institution in the region to be named a 2019 Missouri Gold Star School for its high academic performance.

The elementary school, which serves grades 1-3 in the northwest portion of the district, was recently nominated among the top eight schools in the state by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to receive the award. 

“Congratulations to your students, principal, teachers, staff and your school community on their commendable efforts and great achievements that have led to these recognitions,” wrote Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven in an award letter addressed to Poplar Bluff Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill in June. 

Oak Grove Elementary had 84.5 percent of its students score proficient or advanced in mathematics and 75.7 percent on the English language arts portion of the Missouri Assessment Program test during the 2017/18 school year. The year prior, scores were also high with 86.2 percent proficient or advanced in ELA and 72.4 percent in math. 

If measurable objectives continue to be met for 2018/19, which will be announced in the fall, Oak Grove will earn the Blue Ribbon School Award – the highest achievement for a school in America. Last year, Lake Road—Oak Grove’s southeast counterpart—was the first school in Poplar Bluff history to earn the prestigious honor sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. 

“It’s great to be recognized, but whether we’re being recognized or not doesn’t change the work that we’re doing, because we know the work that we’re doing is having a positive impact on students and staff,” Oak Grove Principal Jenifer Richardson said. “There is no finish line.” 

While Oak Grove has consistently hovered above 90 percent on student attendance, MAP test results were trending downward several years ago, reaching a low during 2014/15 with 58.5 percent of students performing proficient or advanced in English and just 56.5 in math. The following year the elementary school entered its preliminary phase of school-wide positive behavior supports with full implementation in 2016/17, earning silver recognition this past year, successfully reducing discipline referrals by 75 percent, going from 536 to 132 total. 

Once building culture was brought under control by reinforcing expectations through the positive incentive program along with introducing the Capturing Kids’ Hearts relationship-capacity initiative, school personnel were then able to focus on improving outcomes under the Professional Learning Community model – an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry to improve student success. 

“Every single person on our staff—certified or non—has a role in re-teaching or enrichment,” Richardson explained. “We changed our mindset to: If the way we taught a lesson plan did not work, what do we need to change?” 

Collaborative discussions focus on misconceptions and best practices, according to Richardson, using the following set of questions as the compass: What do we want our students to know? How will we know if they know it? What will we do if they don’t know it? What will we do if they already know it? 

After completing her first year as an educator in 2018/19, Gabby Bullock has already stepped up to become the PLC team leader for the first grade, directing biweekly meetings that focus on using data to drive instruction, identifying learning gaps and adjusting response-to-invention groups. While the system may appear overwhelming at first, noted Bullock, it is all she has known. She is thankful to be a part of such a dedicated team of educators, she said. 

A teacher of 14 years tenure, Christy Young admitted that it was difficult at first to accept that something in the curriculum was not gelling, but it marked a real turning point in her career. “You can’t argue with the data,” Young stated.

“We used to go in and shut our doors and focus on our class, and that was it,” Young continued. “Now we focus on the ‘all means all’ mentality with our students. They’re not my students or another teacher’s; every third grade student belongs to every teacher.” 

As a result of closing the achievement gap between student groups by an average rate of 24 percent, Oak Grove was also recognized nationally in 2018 among 100 distinguished Title 1 or ESEA schools, an honor which Lake Road went on to achieve earlier this year. 

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Cutline: Gabby Bullock engages in a guided reading exercise with outgoing first grader Carmen McCrary in advance of MAP testing in May.

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