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Entitled to success

Lakeside E.S. earns national achievement award for turnaround


Herb Monroe moves through the halls of Lakeside Elementary School with a purposeful gait and a soft but direct demeanor.

Around every corner is a student waiting for a hug or a high-five or a teacher with a piece of information to impart. He makes a pit stop to address fourth-graders in the cafeteria, checks in with a teacher about a student who needs extra help, then flashes a smile to a volunteer before poking his head into a boys’ restroom to make sure order is in place.

For the most part, everything is very much in order here with Monroe, Lakeside’s energetic fourth-year principal, at the helm.

The school is a stirring success story, recognized earlier this month as Virginia’s representative in the category of “Closing the Achievement Gap Among Student Groups” at the National Title I Conference in Florida. Standardized test scores across every student demographic at the school – white, black, economically disadvantaged, English as a second language and students with individualized education programs (IEPs) – are nearly identical (ranging between 82 percent and 89 percent pass rates) just four years after those scores painted a much bleaker picture.

The process has not been an easy one, but for Monroe and his staff, its results are not surprising.

Promise kept
As Monroe, a former collegiate wrestler, makes his way to and from his office, he passes beneath a row of championship-esque banners hanging high above. But these banners tout achievement in academics, not sports. Monroe hung them soon after arriving in 2007 to the school, where morale was low but achievement – in certain pockets – was high: 62 students had earned perfect 600 scores on SOL tests during the previous school year.

Seeking a way to visibly promote excellence, he approached the Lakeside Business Association, whose members helped fund the purchase of the banners. The names of each student who achieved perfect scores on any component of the SOL test in the future would be added.

One Lakeside second-grader was so taken by the idea that he made an auspicious promise to his father, who was sick with cancer.

"He said, Dad, next year when I’m in third grade, I’m going to get a 600 on all four core SOL tests,’” Monroe recalled. “It breaks my heart, but his dad died over the summer.”

The boy, however, upheld his promise: four perfect 600 scores. “His name will hang forever here at Lakeside Elementary School,” Monroe said.

Traveling a rocky road
Lakeside is one of 19 Henrico elementaries that receive federal Title I funding and resources. One of the Title I instructional aides whose job exists because of the program, Heather Riddell, remembers feeling uncertain about Lakeside when she was transferred from Shady Grove Elementary in 2007.

“It was quite intimidating,” she said. “Student behavior was very disruptive.”

Monroe handed out 179 suspensions that year, also his first at the school. “It was a rocky road,” he conceded.

That year, test scores were mixed. The overall student pass rate for the reading portion of the SOL was 76 percent and just 71 percent for the math portion. The rates for blacks were disproportionately lower, and those among groups of students also were mostly skewed.

If the scores didn’t improve, Lakeside risked the possibility that parents would be permitted to pull their students and send them to other schools. That “school choice” option was not new to Monroe, who, as an assistant principal, had previously worked to pull Chesterfield’s Robious Middle School out of the same predicament.

“Lakeside was basically two years away from school choice when I arrived,” Monroe said. But he had a simple plan for improvement.

“We decided that at Lakeside Elementary School, we’re going to be about two things – teaching and learning,” he said, recalling initial meetings at the time with his newly assembled academic achievement team of staff members. “Anything that has nothing to do with those two things, we’re going to push out of the way.”

Nearly a dozen teachers left Lakeside during or following that year – Monroe’s first as principal. A handful of others have left in the years since.

“I don’t know if it was [because of] me – it could have been,” Monroe said.

But those who stayed and the new teachers who arrived quickly adapted to the new status quo.

“We had a build-up of newer teachers who were willing to try things different ways,” Riddell said. More teachers began using differentiated instruction, whereby classes are split into small groups so that students who learn similarly can work together with a teacher at their own pace.

The Title I funding allowed the school to purchase more supplies and helped it create a book room for students.

“Before, teachers were using old books or buying their own for students,” said kindergarten teacher Alyssa Hadd, who’s been at Lakeside since 2002. “That becomes difficult quickly.”

The funding also allowed teachers, including Hadd, to attend Title I conferences to learn from national experts. And it provided money for parent workshops and the refreshments that were served at each one – a seemingly insignificant amenity, but one that teachers said helped improve attendance and, ultimately, parent buy-in.

‘Let the horses run’
Today, Monroe looks around his school and sees teachers in every classroom who are excited about their jobs and anxious to exceed goals. Some have been so motivated that he had to institute a policy forbidding them from staying in the building beyond 7 p.m. Otherwise, he said, they might be there all night working on new concepts for students.

“Those [teachers] who bought into the program and bought into the vision are now unbelievably strong,” he said. “I brag now because I feel like I am a leader of leaders. I just feel like now I just hold the reins and let the horses run. I’m behind them now, supporting them, where when I got here I felt like I was in front leading them.”

Monroe made small but meaningful changes to the school’s daily bell schedule – for example, keeping early-arriving students in the cafeteria or auditorium until 7:50 a.m. to allow teachers 30 minutes at the start of the day to meet with parents or work one on one with students who need extra help. He also created an orderly process for dismissal, whereby parents who arrive to pick up their children proceed, one by one, to the front door, holding name placards as if in an airport greeting line.

Staff members use rewards such as the school’s ROAR (Responsibility, Outstanding behavior, Attitude, Respect) program to encourage prideful and appropriate behavior by awarding paw-print stickers to students.

It all adds up to a place where Monroe believes parents are now proud to send their students – and teachers are proud to work.

“We had to have a vested, focused strategic approach about how we were going to turn things around,” he said.

In 2010, the lowest SOL pass rate for any student demographic group at the school in math or reading subject was 82.4 percent (for English as a second language students). The overall pass rates were 87 percent in reading and 89.8 percent in math.

Riddell said she didn’t expect the turnaround to occur so soon.

“I am surprised that it only took a couple years,” she said. “This has just become such a wonderful place to work – it’s just so positive, and quite frankly, that wasn’t always the case.”

Said Hadd, who served as a student teacher, then substitute at Lakeside before becoming full time: “I’ve never taught anywhere else, and I don’t want to. I’ve been through tough times here and they’ve gotten better. I love the kids.”

For Monroe, these are signs that things have changed at Lakeside.

“They feel like the school has turned the corner for good,” he said.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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