Steven Thomasberger (pictured below), the principal of Allendale Elementary School in East Oakland, says schools like his often “become accustomed to feelings of mediocrity and worse.” So after his students made huge gains on state tests, he decided they should celebrate. He wrote this piece about the evening. – Katy
On Thursday night, Allendale celebrated. I had the profound pleasure of hosting a party for third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students and their families. This was an unheard of celebration of academic success for students in this flatlands neighborhood tucked just below the Interstate 580, between High Street and 35th Avenue.
We told the kids, “Dress up as if it was a graduation, come with your parents and be honored, and be proud of your achievement.” Their accomplishment was to score at or above grade level on the California Standards Test. Their test scores made Allendale one of the most improved schools in Oakland, which is the most improved large, urban school district in California. My bit of hyperbole in my address to the parents was, “I guess that makes us one of the most improved schools in California.”
Not only did we improve our state score by 63 points to 741, but we made all the national goals (AYP) for the first time. We also made great progress in closing the “achievement gap” that exists for African-American and Hispanic students. Both groups changed their performance dramatically. Our Hispanic students raised their scores by 100 points!
There would be little dispute that we have the right to celebrate, but schools like Allendale don’t often hold a ritual like we did. We become accustomed to feelings of mediocrity and worse. So, when I first heard how well our students performed I vowed that we would recognize it.
I was especially committed after last year’s fifth-grade graduation. Graduations are always a joyous time in schools as students are promoted to the next level, and whole families come to the school to witness and praise their children’s efforts.
Last year one of my fifth-grade teachers told me the story of a father who came up to her at the end of the ceremony and said, “This is my first time at the school. I just wanted to introduce myself.” The teacher bluntly told the father that he was a little late. He should have made the effort to show up much sooner than the student’s last day.
I agreed with the teacher that some parents are notably absent, but it also made me realize that we hadn’t provided the opportunity for parents to celebrate before the final day of elementary school. Here was our chance. Invitations were sent to the families of 113 high-achieving students (over 40 percent of all of our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders). Although I kept a public face of confidence, I was very anxious if many families would show up. We had never done this before.
I should have had much more faith. Between 250 and 300 students and their families came to receive their certificates and witness the event. Cambodian, African-American, Chinese, Hispanic –- all beaming with pride.
Two former Allendale principals spoke. Herman Long began in 1971. Steve Stevens was the principal during the late 70’s and 80’s. They echoed each other’s comments that the Allendale community has always been a “proud, hard-working, working-class community” deeply concerned about their children. Well, tonight they had reason to show that pride.
Allendale’s teachers and staff have shown that they can move beyond just teaching to knowing if their students are learning, and what do if they aren’t. Yet we all know, parents, teachers, and students, that there is a lot more work to do. At the end of the program 11 of our top students rang our 120 year-old school bell. We rang it ten times. Ten times to signify that we won’t be satisfied until 10 out of 10 of our students are academically successful. – Steven Thomasberger, Allendale Elementary School principal.