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Ogden school district students have a lot to teach us here at Weber State University.
This past school year, four Ogden School District elementary schools improved so dramatically that they have vaulted out of the 10 lowest-performing Utah schools. In just one year, student proficiency for these schools in the language arts portions of the state Criterion-Referenced Tests has gone up by more than 30 percent.
As has been popularly reported in local news, Dee Elementary and Odyssey Elementary were the two most dramatically improved schools. Dee’s students moved from 42 percent language arts proficiency in the spring of 2011 to 74 percent the following year. Both schools have roughly half the student body entering kindergarten learning English as a second language, and all students qualify for free lunch based on socioeconomic status.
So what does this have to do with us as Wildcats?
This change was not born solely on the backs of the teachers, nor was it on the backs of new principals (both schools got new ones). It wasn’t the work of Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith, nor was it the work of state politicians, who so often seem to put educational issues on the back burner because of the complex solutions they require. And the change wasn’t just the work of the students and their parents either, though they deserve applause.
This improvement was a joint effort. It took everyone — parents, teachers, students, administrators, district officials and the community — to pull this off. It took everyone deciding not just to notice what was wrong — the numbers, the statistics, the physical environments of the school, the community supporters — but to go ahead and do something about it.
Here’s what we can learn as university students from these kids in Ogden: The best way to fix something is to try to fix it. That may sound very simple, but that’s what happened. New principals came into the schools and held teachers accountable for their successful and unsuccessful teaching practices. Teachers promoted a culture of learning to get kids showing off their As and not their Fs. Parents were informed of the school’s prior poor performance, even though the inclination is to keep things like that under wraps, and told that, if their students were going to get any better, parents would have to be more involved.
It’s a humbling thing, fixing problems. It takes admitting the problems were there, and then acknowledging that, though the hurdles may be high, they are no reason to not fix things. For so many years, Ogden schools were looked down on by surrounding communities. The expectations for their performance were poor, and the students/teachers/principals/parents met those expectations.
And then, all of a sudden, they exceeded them, because enough people thought they could.
It will take all of us — students, professors and school administrators — to elevate the expectations for our school. Just like at Dee or Odyssey Elementary, they saw the things they could fix, and they fixed them. That was it.
Weber State University could continue to be “just” Weber State University, if we wanted it to. We’re an open-enrollment institution and not mentioned as often as we deserve for being such an important part of the Northern Utah community.
No one expects us to be the best university in Utah. But is that because we don’t expect it to be either?