Principals defy odds to close gap

Moscone Elementary, in the Mission District, is a public school that is commonly known as a “hidden gem.”

But what makes it shine even brighter is that, although many of the school's students are statistically labeled as underachievers, the school's overall performance on state standardized tests compare with some of the district's most coveted schools.

Last year, Moscone received a state ranking of 835, on a scale that goes up to 1,000; 800-plus is considered very good. It reached this high level of academic achievement despite the fact that 86 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches and more than half of the students are Hispanic, who have consistently scored lower than their white and Asian counterparts statewide.

“Moscone represents a school that has closed the achievement gap and we've done it and sustained it for the last several years and I'm extremely proud of that fact,” said Patricia Martel, who was the school's principal until she retired this summer.

Martel said several interventions helped boost the test scores, mainly the reduction of class sizes, a strong literacy program and professional development for all teachers “to improve the delivery of instructional strategies.”

She also noted that boosting student achievement was a shared goal between the faculty, parents and others, who worked together on “community, collaboration, consensus building and shared leadership.”

Finally, the data produced from standardized tests held guide lesson planning “to meet the needs of all students,” Martel said.

Carmelo Sgarlato, principal of James Lick Middle School — which boasted impressive growth in the number of students that jumped up to or past the state's “proficiency” bar in both math and English — agreed that having test data also made a difference for the teachers at his school. James Lick, located in Noe Valley, had a population that was 64 percent Hispanic, 13 percent black, with more than half of the students qualifying for free or reduced meals.

Sgarlato said an equally important component of the school's success was giving teachers daily, common planning time to talk about their work in the classroom.

“Teachers were able to use that data, to go back into their common planning time, to talk about whether they were successful, and plan more effectively,” Sgarlato said.

Patricia Gray, principal of Balboa High School, another school that has defied the odds, agreed that “using the data to drive instruction” has helped boost student achievement. She also credited, class size reductions at the ninth-grade level, and “high expectations,” for all students, noting that whereas the school once only gave Advanced Placement tests to about 20-30 students, last year 187 students took the college-level tests.

beslinger@examiner.com

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