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Holtville Finley School
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’s Finley School Honored With Statewide Award

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 next segment.

“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,” Acosta said.

Tiffany Terrill, Finley counselor, noted she is not so much an academic coach as she is an emotional/social mentor for students.

“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.”

This story is featured in the Feb 20, 2020 e-Edition.