Students are Dreaming Big at Cleveland Elementary

Principal Cynthia White has come full circle. Last year, she decided to accept the principal position at Cleveland Elementary School, which was the lowest performing elementary school in Santa Barbara district- the same school she started her career as Kindergarten teacher 30 years ago. After 10 years of teaching, Cynthia moved into administration for 20 years. Just previous to this principalship, she served as the district’s Curriculum Director, so she was very well prepared to take on a challenge.

Cleveland Elementary educates over 400 students everyday, ranging from pre-K to sixth grade. Although Cynthia sits in an office with a million dollar view, overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean, the population of her school is far from living the type of life the view might suggest. 85% of her students live at the poverty level. Santa Barbara is a destination town but most of the families at Cleveland are the working poor- 1st or 2nd generation to live in this country working in tourist industry, living on hourly wages. 75% of the students know English as their second language. These are the well-known circumstances that make it difficult for schools to achieve high success rates for their students.

But Cleveland is defying the odds. When Cynthia took the reins last year, the school was equipped with computers from the early 1990s. The speed and capabilities of the machines were virtually worthless. She knew she immediately had to replace and develop an infrastructure in the school that would support 21st century learning for her students. “You have to have a laser like focus on what kids really need to be successful in the future,” says Cynthia, and it is clear that laser focus that determines the decisions she makes for the school, as a whole.

Cynthia first convinced her site council to purchase 96 brand new laptops and divided them among the 3rd grade classrooms, so that each classroom had enough devices for ⅓ of the class to be on the computers at one time. Next, she knew the school needed strong wifi network in place. She also knew it was essential to have the support to keep the machines online and working properly, so Cleveland employs an IT specialist that not only keeps the school machines in check but also is available to help school families with their personal devices- which means either having them bring their machines to the school or deploying him to go out to the student’s homes. White values the importance of her students having unlimited access to online learning, at school and at home.

Once confident that infrastructure was sound, White could comfortably introduce online learning opportunities for her students. From her experience as the district curriculum director, Dreambox was at the top of her list. Although considered “expensive” by some schools, Cynthia knew this was a definite case of “you get what you pay for.” She felt so confident, in fact, she disappointed many of her teachers who were pushing for “topic software,” software that aligns directly text and teaching material and chose to invest solely in Dreambox.

Cynthia launched an “opt-in” pilot program of Dreambox for her third grade teachers from last October until December. During the first months, the 3rd grade teachers employed an instructional rotation model, with students simultaneously working with a teacher in small groups, independently or at a computer on the Dreambox math program for 20- 30 minutes a day. Despite the teachers initial worries that Dreambox would not affect student achievement because it was not coherent with class instruction, they actually noticed that the students were making progress and starting to understand new number concepts by the second month of the program. CAT (California Achievement Test) scores saw a huge jump from just the year before.

The staff at Cleveland recognize that digital, adaptive learning is the wave of the future and not taking advantage of it and providing it for students is unwise because this is exactly how they will be functioning and learning for the rest of their lives. Even the teacher most adamantly against the adoption, decided to keep an open mind, give the program a test run and accept the results. When she saw that every one of her students moved up an entire proficiency level and no student was left behind, still struggling to master what they had worked on throughout the year, she quickly became a firm believer in the program.
After the pilot wrapped up in December, Dreambox remains an opt-in program at Cleveland Elementary. Still, as of April, every teacher is using Dreambox as part of their math instruction. Using Dreambox has definitely unified the staff and helped them work successfully towards the common goal of strengthening the level of instruction for students, and, in turn, boosting test scores, achievement levels and student confidence.
Dreambox is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is a Media Specialist at The Madeleine School.

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