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Hewetson principal earns spot in Nevada Public Education Foundation Hall of Fame

Hewetson Elementary School principal Lucy Keaton helped transform what was one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in the Clark County School District into an exemplary turn around school, the state’s highest academic designation.

For her efforts over the past six years at Hewetson, 701 N. 20th St., she was inducted into the Nevada Public Education Foundation Hall of Fame in May at the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.

Keaton became principal at Hewetson in 2005. Nearly 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, 79 percent are English Language Learners, and 100 percent are on free or reduced lunch programs.

When she took over, it was one of the lowest-achieving schools in the district.

At that time, 17 percent of students were proficient in English language arts and 30 percent were proficient in math. By 2010, those numbers were 74 percent and 82 percent, respectively.

One of 130 fifth-graders passed the writing proficiency exam her first year as principal. In 2010, 81 of 130 passed.

"It doesn’t matter who you are," said Keaton, "every year we have high expectations for the kids, and we expect them to perform."

Keaton knows the struggles these students faced because she used to be one of them.

She grew up in Mexico City, immigrated to the United States when she was 11 and had to learn a new language.

"I just felt like, coming up as an ELL (English Language Learner) student myself, at times people don’t give you a chance," said Keaton. "I just felt like this school had a lot to offer, but people weren’t really seeing the ability that these kids had."

Keaton began her career in Las Vegas nearly two decades ago as a kindergarten teacher at Thomas Elementary School, 1560 Cherokee Lane.

Eldorado High School p rincipal Danielle Miller was assistant principal at Thomas then and has been a mentor to Keaton ever since.

"I watched her put her efforts toward making a difference for the Hispanic community," said Miller. "She’s making sure those children have a voice in our system.

"I think we’re all very proud of her , t o see someone come through the ranks like that. She’s really worked at changing community expectations. She doesn’t accept any excuses from the students or parents."

One of the reasons Keaton has been successful is because she has been committed to Hewetson, which she said wasn’t always the norm.

"We had a lot of administrators going through, going through, going through, all the time," said Keaton. "Basically this was more of a training ground. If you could survive a school like this, you could survive any school in the district. This was really the belief, and I heard it over and over.

"I just felt like, ‘What are we doing to these kids?’ They need something consistent. With everyone going through, kids weren’t getting the services they needed."

Keaton and her students have thrived in recent years.

They’ve met a dequate y early p rogress standards four years running and had gains of at least 10 percent in student achievement on standardized tests every year, which Keaton expects to continue.

She encourages friendly competition among teachers and students, and they’ve bought into it.

Data from every student and class are posted around the school. Teachers and students are given attainable goals regularly, which are consistently raised.

She implemented a reading incentive program and tracks the number of books read by having students complete quizzes about the books, in which they must answer at least 85 percent of the questions correctly.

Each student reads about 100 books a year on average. It has now become "cool to read" at the school. Hewetson had the largest circulation of books checked out through the school library throughout the district, about 78,000.

Keaton also celebrates her students’ success by offering incentives such as having a special lunch or dinner with her, or taking a field trip. However, c uts to the 2011-12 budget may force her to end such celebrations, she said.

Keaton said she plans to stay at Hewetson and keep improving with her staff and students in the difficult years ahead.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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