Central Texas school says individual student focus led to national honor

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 7:46 AM CDT
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VALLEY MILLS, Texas (KWTX) - Valley Mills Elementary Schools has been working to improve test scores over the last several years, and now, that work is being recognized.

The United States Department of Education recognized the campus as a National Blue Ribbon School. It’s one of 26 schools across the state, and the only one in Central Texas.

Valley Mills was nominated by the Texas Education Agency to apply because of the increase in STAAR test scores during the 2019 school year.

There are two different categories a school can be recognized in for the awards. Schools can either be recognized as an exemplary high performing school, which means it is among the highest achieving schools in the state.

Schools can also be an exemplary achievement gap closing school, which means they are among the highest performing schools in the state in terms of closing achievement gaps between student groups. This is the category Valley Mills Elementary School was nominated for.

Teachers and staff attribute that growth to a new curriculum during the 2018-2019 school year, and incorporating more data into decision-making.

“I think a lot of it was really tracking the data very closely and taking the time to meet with each grade level on a consistent basis, crunch the data, move kids around,” Josh Jones, director of student services, said. “Always be on top of it, never get complacent with where the kids were in the groups, watching their growth, pushing them each time and you know, having that that sky’s the limit mentality for each and every kid.”

Kasey Pate, a second grade teacher at VME, said that type of individualized education is important for student growth.

“I think the kids trust you more if you’re not putting something on them that they don’t get,” Pate said. “So meeting them where they are, helping them where they are, and then helping them meeting that goal, I think is the best way.”

Part of the blue ribbon award recognizes that achievement gaps between specific student subgroups, like demographics. VME staff said they didn’t go into the year focusing on those differences, rather, they wanted to increase achievement for all students.

“We put in the time for each kid to get exactly what they needed and the result ended up being that those specific populations did grow,” Jones said. “But our focus was on getting every kid what they needed and that’s the important part of why it was successful.”

School staff said it was very exciting to learn they received the award, considering all the strides and effort that went into the past several years before the nomination.

“We know that all of our teachers and staff work incredibly hard, and it’s just exciting that we were recognized and everyone was recognized for the hard work that everyone put in because it’s great to feel like it is seen,” Kaitlyn Pilcher, a counselor said.

This is the 39th year schools were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools, and 325 schools across the country received the honor.

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