Lupita Perez (fourth from left), principal of Finley Elementary School in Holtville, with teachers receiving the California Distinguished Schools award in Anaheim on Feb. 10. | Photo courtesy of Finley Elementary School
HOLTVILLE — Holtville’s Finley Elementary School earned a California Distinguished Schools award at a recent ceremony, an honor bestowed by the State Board of Education for schools that best represent exemplary and quality educational programs.
At a recognition celebration on Feb. 10 in
Anaheim, 323 elementary schools were honored as Distinguished Schools based on
the 2018 Dashboard results.
The Dashboard is an online interactive
mapping tool for identifying school and student-group performance on a map. It
displays schools by their color-coded performance level for each of the state
indicators: graduation rates, suspension rates, test scores, English-learner
progress, college/career readiness, and chronic absenteeism.
“Considering how we have closed the
achievement gap with more resource-rich areas, the fact we are 60 percent
English learners and a significant population of socially/economic disadvantaged,
the school has done a pretty amazing job,” said Principal Lupita Perez.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Yet Perez gave substantial credit to staff
and teachers. Fernando Acosta, a fifth grade teacher who tirelessly devotes his
energy to making certain all his students achieve, is an example of what made
Finley stand out.
“I think we have a great team of
teachers here, many with 10 years or more experience, and a supportive
administration open to new ideas,” said Acosta. “We often commit to teacher-to
teacher collaboration. And the combination of veteran teachers with a cohort of
new teachers each year is a valuable way to boost achievement.”
Technology also plays a vital role to
advance skills retention, explained Acosta. Every student the last several
years has had their own Chromebook.
Chromebooks are laptops and two-in-ones
running on Google’s Chrome operating system. When they first arrived in 2011
they were derided. Yet today’s Chromebooks are pretty far from where they started.
Computers in Classrooms Make a Difference
“One thing we’re excited about is
we’ve made Chromebooks available during after school,” said Acosta.
“Also our ASES (After School Education and Safety) program provides
literacy and academic enrichment for students in kindergarten through ninth
grade during non-school hours, and that’s just one of our tutoring providers.”
Another component that adds academic rigor
is dual language immersion. Subjects are taught in both English and Spanish and
any knowledge gap in one language is readily retained by instruction in the
“The thing is, we get a new group of
students each year and while I’m able to improve their skills, is their prior
teachers who enabled me because of their success in teaching prerequisite
material,” Acosta added. “In our fifth-grade class, students scored higher than
the state average in the proficiency level and the advanced.”
State Records Affirm Achievement
Statistics back him up, including the
California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, the state’s
assessment system for students in third through eighth grades, and grade 11. It
measures how well students are mastering state standards in English language
arts and mathematics. The state average for English language arts was 49
percent at proficiency (2017/18) for fifth grade, while Finley was at 57
percent. In math, the average was 35 percent while Finley logged 42 percent.
“I feel proud of my team because
we’re the only elementary school in Imperial County receiving this award,”
Tiffany Terrill, Finley counselor, noted
she is not so much an academic coach as she is an emotional/social mentor for
“I do study skills with them so they
do better on tests, such as in multiple choice, eliminate the obvious wrong
answer first,” she said. “Don’t wait until the day before a test to
pay close attention. Begin the first day. And you must attend school every day
because if you’re not here, you can’t learn. Our teachers are motivated and
have high expectations for their students.”
What the Finley staff is very proud of is
their foundational reading and math tutoring, explained Perez.
“We provide intervention before,
during and after school,” she said. “It’s small-group instruction and
assisted by all school staff: teacher assistants, librarians, resource teachers
and counselors. We all have to do our part.”