Juniper School Enrichment
12/05/2013 12:14PM ● Published by Jon Lewis
Photo: Eric Leslie
Seven years ago, Juniper Elementary School was just not a fun place to be. Enrollment was down, morale was low and its students’ standardized test scores were the lowest in Shasta County. A mere 28 percent of Juniper’s students were considered proficient in English and 31 percent made the grade in math.
These days, the K-8 school in south Redding is among the highest achieving schools in the Redding Elementary School District, and so many parents want to enroll their kids that administrators had to create a waiting list.
“Now it’s a joyful place to be,” says Beverlee Armelino, Juniper’s instructional coach. “People are working hard and being successful. Teachers are teaching and students are on task.”
The turnaround started in 2007 when Juniper was awarded a state grant through the Quality Education Investment Act. The legislation sought to financially fortify the state’s lowest-performing schools—most, like Juniper, serving students from predominantly low-income neighborhoods—to allow for smaller class sizes and more teacher resources, including Armelino’s coaching position.
The $149,000 a year in grant funds marked the beginning of a new approach at the school, with everybody’s sights set on closing the achievement gap between Juniper and other schools in the district. Armelino arrived at Juniper in 2007 to find “a school full of hard-working teachers putting in long hours trying to change the culture.”
“We put the emphasis on working smarter, not harder. After all, there’s only seven days in a week,” says Armelino, who taught at Manzanita Elementary School for 21 years.
Changing the way things have been done is seldom easy, and remaking the culture at Juniper was no exception. The new model, with its emphasis on collaboration, assessments and interventions, ruffled a few feathers and led to some personnel changes, but the effort paid off.
“We focused on what we taught, how we taught and authentic reading instruction to increase comprehension and fluency,” Armelino says. Teachers were asked to check their egos at the door and put their trust in the system. “We’re not making excuses when kids don’t do well. We’ll keep teaching and teaching until they get it. We owe that to our kids.”
Stan Williamson, a veteran language arts teacher, bought in and likes the changes he’s seen in his students and colleagues. “Juniper’s faculty is a focused group of professionals who all have the same goal for student success,” Williamson says. “We have a wonderful teaching environment based on collaboration, and new and constantly changing teaching strategies make for a challenging environment of learning for students and teachers alike.”
Juniper was able to close its achievement gap within three years, and first-year principal Anthony Anderson says the school-wide emphasis on teacher teamwork and reading has been the key.
“Reading is the only way out of poverty,” Anderson says. “The only way to be ready for a career, a trade school or university admission is to be proficient at reading and expressing yourself in writing.”
An emphasis on college readiness also is a part of Juniper’s renaissance. Anderson says the goal is to get each student on track for undergraduate education, whether or not students ultimately choose to go to college.
Each Juniper teacher has “adopted” a four-year university and provided students with college-issued T-shirts that the kids wear one day a week. Students are frequently reminded of the benefits of a college degree and encouraged to develop the reading, math and science skills required for the college-prep academic journey ahead.
Toward that goal, Juniper became the first school in the North State to be accepted into the No Excuses University, a network of like-minded schools that operates under the premise that all children, including those living in impoverished situations or learning the English language, can be successful and attend college.
“We have to be prepared to work hard,” Armelino says. “Hope is not a strategy.” •
Juniper School • 375 Ellis St., Redding