Los Altos Bulldogs - Making Its Mark

It’s that time of year when the “madness” is not only found on the basketball court, but in the classroom as well.  The final countdown for the yearly state testing is here.   Teachers are preparing their students rigorously for the yearly event.

Sophia Fontes actively engages her kindergarden class with direct modeling of lessons

Similar to the underdogs, the 8th seeded - Butler Bulldogs in the March Mania of college basketball, the Los Altos Bulldogs of the South Whittier School District, are the underdogs, making their climb up the ladder for rising test scores.

As a small school, the Butler Bulldogs, located in a small town in Indiana, often lose recruits to much larger named schools like Notre Dame or the Indiana Hoosiers. Their budget of 11 million yearly is far less than other Division I schools like Duke University, whose budget is 71 million yearly.  However, student players who attend Butler University are happy to be there and they leave proud to be a Butler Bulldog.  Butler’s men’s basketball program graduates 90 percent of its athletes.

Cathy Valdez assists her students during the Writing Process

Likewise, as a small school in a small school district, Los Altos Elementary, a tiny K thru 3rd grade school located in the southern end of Whittier city in Southern California, may, at times, lose students to the much larger surrounding school districts.  Nonetheless, Los Altos students, however small, thrive and make progress, and most importantly, they are happy to be there. 

In spite of a dismal showing, Butler’s statistics against Florida this weekend were less than stellar: Field Goals 24-60; 3 Point Attempts 9 – 33; and Free Throws 17 – 27; it doesn’t negate the fact that in the end the result remained: WINNING!  If we were to base Butler’s performance on statistics alone, we might not be impressed.  But it’s the consistency, the diligence, the perseverance, and the commitment that we applaud.  Those are the real successes.

Connie Sava uses compare/contrast strategies to engage her 1st graders

This is exactly what Los Altos teachers are offering to their students on a daily basis: consistency, diligence, perseverance, and commitment. 

Dr. Erich Kwek, superintendent of SWSD, helped Los Altos begin to make its mark by assigning Mrs. Martha Mestanza-Rojas as principal for the 2010 -2011 school year.  Mrs. Rojas offers the staff support by instilling an expectation of excellence.  She provides an accountability and presence that was lacking in years prior.  Also, Mrs. Rojas works closely with her 2nd grade team to strategize and gain insight on how to succeed in student achievement. 

Michael Long teaches intervention classess daily

In addition to the recruitment of a new principal was the placement of Mr. Michael Long, California State Teacher of the Year – 2008, as the school’s reading coach.  Mr. Long supports and works closely with the 3rd grade team.  He works daily with students who are in need of extra intervention for reading and language arts.

Teachers at Los Altos are working cohesively to build test scores and to move Los Altos up the ladder. Mrs. Michi Tanimoto, former South Whittier Teacher of the Year - 2002, works closely with me and her 3rd grade team through her tenure and her eagerness to reach her students in any way she can.  Her classroom management skills are highly developed and she graciously shares this with her student teachers. Additionally, as a third grade teacher, I offer homework club everyday after school to ensure that students understand their curriculum.

Mrs. Cathy Valdez, who teaches 2nd grade, is the school’s 27 year veteran.  Mrs. Valdez is energetic and vivacious, yet consistent and firm.  Her teaching styles and commitment to the writing process across the curriculum keep her students engaged.  She is able to incorporate state standards authentically and still connect it with music and art. There is a high expectation level that the students rise to on a daily basis.

In 2008, the Butler Bulldogs and their league were virtually unknown and their players needed to be researched.  Now, in 2011, they are in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.  It took time, patience and a commitment to the game plan.

In 2011, Los Altos Elementary may not be the most well known school - yet the teachers have time, patience and a commitment to their game plan.  We teachers know successes come daily, some in small increments, but progress is being made, despite the statistics.

Fun Facts: 
Did you know that teachers are mandated to test every student that enters their classroom regardless if it is one week or one day before testing, no matter what the language barrier?  Teachers inherit those test scores and are evaluated with those same scores.

Did you know that in high transient areas like South Whittier, teachers do not get credit for the hard work they put into their student’s progress if that student moves?  The next teacher gets credit for those test scores.

Did you know that school districts spend thousands of dollars ordering test booklets?  And they spend thousands more to have them corrected electronically?  At whose expense?

Did you know that there are parents in neighboring states protesting state testing for 2nd and 3rd graders because their children are stressed out?  With our economic status and hardships, this sounds reasonable.

Did you know that teachers are assessed on test scores as a whole with no credit for individual student progress from year to year? 

Did you know that there is zero recognition for teachers who move a child from “far below grade level” status to “below grade level status” even though these are true successes?  These students are simply labeled “failures”.

Did you know that there is no required “proctor” to ensure secure testing procedures?  Is there true fidelity, or do some teachers and schools embellish test scores out of fear of scrutiny?

Patti Martin is an entertainment writer, but an educator first. Her goals are for each child to have and achieve success. She is currently assisting former students with their senior projects.   She is committed to educating parents and the community on the truths and fallacies about state testing.  She hopes to be able to reinstate “The I’m Going to College” program that she had her students attend yearly at UCLA.

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