Tensions were high at Elizabeth Wilhelm Elementary School when the Clark County School District deemed it at Turnaround Zone school in 2013 due to low performance on state assessments.
The school district gave Wilhelm assistance to improve and appointed Principal Debra Jones, the former principal at Stanford Elementary, which she said had been struggling with reading scores before she stepped in. Some teachers were asked to leave.
Kelley Riles-Royce, who has been teaching kindergarteners through third-graders at Wilhelm for 10 years and now is a learning strategist, said 10-12 people left. The school district “wanted to know what was working and what wasn’t because on paper, it looked like nothing was working, but the things we were doing just weren’t working at the time,” she said.
Jones has accomplished a major goal: four years later, Wilhelm is no longer considered underperforming. Jones credits the transformation to changing the culture of school personnel and teacher interactions, parent participation and getting the students excited about reading.
Wilhelm students’ proficiency rates have increased by 33 percent in math and 16 percent in reading from the beginning of this school year, according to CCSD.
Jones said parents complained they were not able to come into the building to speak with personnel, so she made herself and her staff more visible and approachable. Jones said she also took feedbackand developed more activities for children and their parents.
She said she brought in a reading structure used for kindergarteners through fifth-graders known as the Daily 5, which includes 10- to 15-minute lessons in which children rotate among various centers, Jones said. While the students are rotating, the teacher meets with students one on one.
“Part of our homework expectation for our kids here is that they read every night and, to be honest with you, if they don’t do anything else but read, I’m OK with that,” Jones said, adding, “Reading affects everything. So if you’re a good reader then you can work a tough math problem and you become a better writer.”
By 2015, the school got involved with CCSD’s Apple Core (All People Promoting Literacy Efforts and Counting Our Efforts) program, which is administered in before- and after-school programs. Apple Core started in 2004 in Henderson schools and was brought to North Las Vegas and Las Vegas three years ago, said North Las Vegas recreation leader Crystal Jackson.
Apple Core encourages kindergarteners through fifth-graders to read a minimum of 15 minutes per day and report their minutes on a bookmark, then turn it in when they have completed 20 hours of reading.
Wilhelm students turned in the most hours of reading with Apple Core two years in a row, Jones said. During the 2015-16 school year, Wilhelm students turned in 1,087 cards, followed by2,190 cards the next year. Among the 20 North Las Vegas elementary schools, students combined read more than 1 million minutes during the 2016-17 school year, Jackson said.
Wilhelm students were rewarded for their accomplishment after school on a recent Friday with an event that featured activities and snacks. The school district also awarded them a raffle of prizes such as Kindles. The school was given $3,000 this year to purchase more books. Last school year, it was $7,000.
Since implementing the changes, Wilhelm’s level of second-graders who were proficient readers went from 22 percent at the beginning of the year to 55 percent by the end of the year. Fifth-graders went from 73 percent to 84 percent, according to Jones..
“I’ve always taught in the inner cities those lower-income (areas),” Jones said. “I don’t have any desire to go to Summerlin and those schools where the challenge isn’t so great, because I know that these kids have a chance and I want to be there for them.”