Lack of turnover propels Congress’s success

By Shawn Byrne


It’s been three years since a teacher left Congress Elementary School in a lateral move. Yes,there have been a few teachers who have retired or departed to take positions in administration at other school districts. Consequently, Congress Elementary earned its third consecutive “A” in the state’s “A-F” letter based scale of grading public schools.

“We’re proud of that,” said Dr. Stephanie Miller, superintendent of Congress Elementary School District. “Limited turnover is an administrator’s dream. Building that human intelligence is capital, and not having turnover is a good sign.”

Lack of teacher turnover is one component of Congress’s success, and there are six core elements that make Congress work. Professional development, data-driven accountability, whole-child instruction, community and family involvement, an active and supportive school board, and funding are the ingredients that create an “A” school in Congress.

Under the umbrella of these core elements, Congress strives to live up to its district’s vision statement, utilize project-based learning, and a dual report card system.

CESD’s vision statement is only two-fold. “Students enjoy learning and success. Students discover the world and its opportunities.” That’s it, but there is a lot in there to unpack.

“Staying up on technology is important,” Miller said. “We went through phases when computers would spool for five minutes when starting up. That’s not good for the kids.”

Congress emphasizes celebrating the work of its students, and shows them off by displaying their work prominently on the walls of the school’s hallways.

Fifth-grade students at Congress partnered with an Argentinian middle school, and NASA facilitated the partnership. This example of project-based learning had the children problem solving “What is it like to live the first two weeks on Mars.”

NASA assigned projects to the students, and they worked in teams. Congress and Argentinian students could compare their results and projects across the internet.

An interesting aside with these two groups of children about 6,000 miles apart was that the Argentinian children lived in an urban environment and were not familiar with rural living like the Congress students. Each group took computers outside to show the other what the local environments were like.

At the end, NASA continued its involvement by critiquing the students’ work.

“We try to do project-based learning that extends internationally,” Miller said. “We’re learning from others and collaborating, and while at the same time discovering things.”

Report cards at Congress Elementary consist of dual system – behavior and standards based.

“You can come in, not know the standards, but you’re working really hard,” Miller said. “You’re making your goals and doing things that support learning, you’re going to make a ‘3.’”

A “3” means proficient in a 1-4 grading legend. A “1” is minimally proficient and a “4” is highly proficient in the subjects of math, science, social studies, and technology. This method functions alongside state standards.

“Even if you don’t make a ‘3,’ you’re doing your best,” the superintendent continued. “And all that matters is you’re doing your best, and that’s honor roll.”

The district uses letter grades in the areas of mindsets for learning, empathy and relationships, emotions and self-regulation, problem solving and handling conflict, and English language arts. An “A” shows a student is “consistently” showing success, and a “D” is when a student “rarely” shows success. This is the side of the ledger where students can find themselves landing on the honor roll.

“People make the difference,” Miller said. “We set the culture and we’re the drivers. We empower individuals while aligning to the district’s goals.”

In order to get a complete understanding of why Congress Elementary School continues to be an “A” school, Miller encourages anyone who is interested to visit the school and see how it is all accomplished at 26400 S. Tenderfoot Hill Road.

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