S.F.'s Ortega Elementary kids ‘focused’

Dedicated teachers, rigorous coursework and parental engagement are just a few of the fundamentals Jose Ortega Elementary School principal JoLynn Washington credits for students’ major gains on the 2007 state standardized tests.

The school, which serves about 230 kindergarten through fifth-grade students in The City’s southwestern sector, improved more than any other San Francisco school last year at the benchmark fourth-grade level, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.

Sixty-five percent of the fourth-graders scored at proficient levels or above in English-language arts, up 29 percent from the year before. Similarly, 84 percent of those students scored proficient or above in math, up 28 percent from 2006.

“The students are focused,” said Washington, who is entering her second year as principal of the school. “Parents have always said we’re a hidden jewel. But, it’s time for us to come out.”

Although Jose Ortega Elementary School is not San Francisco’s highest-performing school, it has implemented various programs in recent years that have contributed to the fourth-grade test gains, Washington said.

Last school year, for example, teachers held individual meetings every six weeks with about 60 students who were identified as needing additional help. The teachers and students set goals at each meeting, and if the goals weren’t met, a new strategy was employed.

About four years ago, the school also adopted a new instructional model for literacy education. Students now receive two and a half hours of English-language arts instruction a day, plus 30 minutes of independent reading.

“The concepts students learn were enhanced as they move along to the fourth-grade level,” fourth-grade teacher Verna Washington said.

Along with the literacy program, a new instructional model in mathematics has helped focus the curriculum in the subject. “The hard-core program helped us to really cover the standards,” said Jacob Strohm, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher.

Parents are also encouraged to join their children during family nights at the school that highlight math, reading and science. Teachers set up academic games in the cafeteria, and families move from station to station.

Parent Maria Orozco said the school’s faculty and staff have treated her children like family. “It’s the relationship the students have with the teachers,” she said, when asked what makes the school a standout.

SFUSD’s most-improved

Schools that had an increase in the number of students with proficient or advanced scores in English-language arts and math by more than 5 percent from 2006.

English-language arts

» Bret Harte Elementary

» Marshall Elementary

» Serra Elementary

» Miraloma Elementary

» Carmichael Elementary

» KIPP SF Bay Academy

» Marina Middle

» Roosevelt Middle

» Lawton K-8

» Lincoln High

Math

» William L. Cobb Elementary

» Marshall Elementary

» Sanchez Elementary

» Miraloma Elementary

» Carmichael Elementary

» Tenderloin Community Elementary

» San Francisco Community K-8

» Roosevelt Middle

» Balboa High

» Thurgood Marshall High

– Source: SFUSD

arocha@examiner.com

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