Avon Elementary wins prestigious honor | VailDaily.com

Avon Elementary wins prestigious honor

NWS Avon Elementary 1 KA 1-30-12

AVON, Colorado – Avon Elementary School is one of only five Colorado schools to win this year’s National Blue Ribbon School Award.

Avon Elementary more than doubled its standardized test scores over the past two years while serving a mostly minority student population. That caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcements Friday.

Avon Elementary is joined by four other Colorado schools in winning Blue Ribbon honors: Garnet Mesa Elementary School in Delta, Pear Park Elementary School in Grand Junction, Slavens K-8 School in Denver and Summit Middle Charter School in Boulder.

Only 269 schools across the country earned Blue Ribbon honors, and 417 were nominated across the country, the U.S. Department of Education said Friday.

Avon Elementary was nominated as an Exemplary Improving school.

That means that at least 40 percent of its students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that the school has closed its achievement gap – the gap between the school’s highest performing students and its lowest performing students.

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That data is gleaned from the school’s performance on standardized tests, and Avon Elementary’s scores have soared in the past two years.

Principal Melissa Rewold-Thuon found out a few weeks the school had won. The information was embargoed from media release until Friday morning.

But some things are just too good not to share. She spilled the beans Thursday to parents during Avon Elementary’s back-to-school night.

“They were hugging each other and cheering and high-fiving all over the place. They kept saying, ‘We don’t want to go home now,'” Rewold-Thuon said.

Eagle Valley Middle School is the only other local school to earn a National Blue Ribbon School award. That one came in 1992-93.

Remarkable reversal

It’s been a remarkable reversal for Avon Elementary.

“White flight” shifted the school’s population dramatically when the school district’s charter school and a Catholic school opened nearby. Students from more than 100 more affluent Anglo families send their children to other schools each year, Rewold-Thuon wrote in Avon Elementary’s Blue Ribbon application.

Of Avon Elementary’s 235 current students, 87 percent are not native English speakers and 206 qualify as low income, based on their eligibility for free/reduced meal programs, according the school’s data.

Five years ago Avon Elementary was one year from being under corrective action and taken over by the Department of Education, Rewold-Thuon said.

The school had failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements for six straight years.

The school was removed from the corrective action list three years ago, doubled its standardized test scores two years ago, and this year they’re a National Blue Ribbon School.

Over the past five years, Avon Elementary’s reading scores soared, from 25.53 percent proficient and advanced in 2007 to 67.83 in 2011, as measured by Colorado’s annual CSAP test. Math scores were up from 38.85 percent in 2007 to 69.23 percent in 2011.

The last time Avon Elementary’s CSAP scores were that high, the student body’s ethnic makeup was almost the exact opposite of what it is now, Avon Elementary Rewold-Thuon said when this year’s results rolled in.

The goal is 80 percent, Rewold-Thuon said.

“Ideally, we want all students to score proficient and/or advanced on the state assessments,” Rewold-Thuon said.

It takes a village

It really does take a village, and Avon Elementary happens to have one, Rewold-Thuon said.

“It’s a combination of so many things. It’s part of what everyone did,” Rewold-Thuon said.

The school changed to dual-language instruction, English and Spanish. Students quickly became bilingual and so have the teachers; 75 percent of the faculty is bilingual, Rewold-Thuon said.

“That allows students to access the information in their native language, then apply it in a second language,” Rewold-Thuon said.

Now they group kids by reading levels instead of by grades, with the goal of getting them to the next level and the next and the next.

“Our philosophy is to give kids more targeted instruction for their specific needs,” Rewold-Thuon said.

The Vail Valley Foundation’s Youth Foundation provides tutoring and after-school athletic programs, along with music and dance programs, an extended-year program, after school programs, Saturday schools and enrichment programs.

The Cordillera Motorcycle Association gives them a hand up with school supplies and breakfast, making sure every student has a hot breakfast.

“We are extremely excited for Melissa and all the teachers, staff and students at Avon Elementary, not only from the standpoint of the award, but also for what they are doing on a daily basis for the children of our community,” said John Dakin with the Vail Valley Foundation. “The Vail Valley Foundation’s Youth Foundation is proud to be a longtime partner with Avon Elementary and it is gratifying to know that together, we are making significant progress.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Award recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools that excel regardless of race or socioeconomic status, say the U.S. Department of Education criteria.

Since 1982, the program has honored more than 6,000 schools.

Representatives from the 269 schools will be honored Nov. 12-13 in Washington, D.C. The school will receive a National Blue Ribbon Schools plaque and a flag.

Rewold-Thuon and teacher Ella Thomas will head to Washington for the ceremony to receive the school’s flag and plaque.

Avon Elementary gets to use the National Blue Ribbon logo.

“Words cannot describe the overwhelming sense of pride we feel at AES. To be a National Blue Ribbon School is an amazing accomplishment and we are truly honored by this recognition from the U.S. Department of Education,” Rewold-Thuon said. “This is a wonderful testament of the power of talented and dedicated teachers, high expectations, and strong support from our community organizations, parents and school board.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.