A short visit on a Friday morning to Emerson Elementary School provided a glimpse at why Emerson Elementary has been named a California Distinguished School by the California Department of Education (CDE).
Although it’s only April, boxes of new supplies and instructional materials for the coming school year line the school office. Principal Susan Hodge, now in her 17th year as principal and 31st year working at Emerson, says that teachers shouldn’t have to worry about stocking their classrooms, wasting their teaching and prep time standing at the copy machine, or spending their own money to be sure basic supplies are on hand the first day of school.
A closer look inside the classrooms reveals students working intently (even on a Friday!), teachers engaged with kids, and lots of positive reinforcements in the halls and on classroom walls. Principal Hodge says the goal of excellence for all students at Emerson is embraced by all of her staff. “Whether it’s the bilingual clerical assistant, the custodian, or the teachers, each person working at Emerson knows he/she is part of the team and brings a sense of urgency to the work every day,” she explains.
Visual aids posted all around the school communicate a strong, positive school environment and underscore the meaning of the community affirmation shared at all assemblies: I See You. I Appreciate You. I Am So Glad You Are Here!. Positive behaviors are reinforced as students are “caught being good,” and restorative practices are used to correct student behavior when there are problems.
Principal Hodge is proud of the team she has built and points to the excellent teaching and collaborative nature of her staff as key to their success. She further credits the frequency of the direct academic interventions provided in small groups and one-on-one as well as counseling services that offer safe spaces for students. The students also benefit from the tight relationships the staff work to build with parents and families. The foundational idea is that when kids feel safe and supported they can learn.
The growth in student achievement as measured on the state test in English Language Arts showed that Emerson’s at risk student populations saw gains of 17 to 24 points, an indication that the achievement gap narrowed significantly in one year. Local reading assessments mirrored this positive trend with 80% of third graders last year demonstrating reading proficiency at grade level or higher. Another example is in math where African American students gained 19 points and Students with Disabilities gained 16 points on the state test.
When 5th grade teacher Jenny Weddle, a 19-year veteran of the Emerson teaching staff pops into the principal’s office, she asserts, “It’s because we see every child as our responsibility, not just those in our own classrooms.” Along with excellent teaching, this idea drives the persistence, strategic planning and resource allocation needed to make sure all kids get what they need to succeed.