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Middle, K-8 Schools Beat Odds, Earn Honors

Middle and K-8 schools were recognized for unprecedented gains in student achievement at this week’s Board of Education meeting. Lindbergh Middle School took top honors in the Long Beach Unified School District’s annual Student Achievement Growth (SAGA) Awards. For the first time, all of the district’s 23 middle and K-8 schools met or exceeded the state’s academic growth targets. All middle schools here now rank at least 7 out of 10 compared to schools statewide that have similar demographics. Seven local middle schools now rank a perfect 10 out of 10 on these statewide similar schools rankings. "The middle and K-8 schools have all made tremendous gains in student achievement," said Deputy Superintendent Dorothy Harper at a packed board meeting. "This could only be accomplished through strong support and cooperation from staff, teachers, parents and students. Together, they have made our middle and K-8 schools the best urban schools in the nation." Harper, who is retiring this year, received two standing ovations after Board of Education President Bobbie Smith read a resolution honoring her for 35 years of service, and for being "totally committed to the belief that every student can learn." Her duties have included overseeing the school district’s nationally recognized middle school reforms. Top SAGA honors for making significant strides with the lowest performing students went to Franklin, Stanford, Hill, DeMille, Bancroft and Lindbergh middle schools. Lindbergh Middle School was honored for achieving the most academic growth of any middle school in the district. Eight out of 10 Lindbergh students receive free and reduced price lunches. Yet Lindbergh showed the greatest growth among local middle schools on the state’s most recent overall Academic Performance Index (API) by scoring 621 points, up 73 points over the previous year. This overall gain represents more than a five-fold increase beyond the state’s 13-point growth target for the same period. Lindbergh also posted even more remarkable gains for one subgroup. The API for African American students at the school jumped by 89 points. Lindbergh Principal Avery Hall attributed the school’s success to "high expectations, hard work, a positive school climate, a focus on literacy and math, department common conference period planning, walkthroughs, teamwork, excellent teachers and department chairs, analyzing student work, professional staff development, period 8 and intersession math and reading support, and parent-teacher intervention conferences. "Our teachers got the job done, and they deserve to be recognized," said Hall. Lindbergh’s API score has increased from the 400s to the 600s in just four years. "We’re aiming for the 700 club next," she said. The ultimate target for schools is 800. Lindbergh veteran math teacher Peggy Gutierrez credits much of the school’s success to the time teachers spend working together to examine and discuss student work and lesson plans. Teachers from each grade level meet together every month to fine tune instruction in reading, writing and math. Gutierrez, the math department head and math coach, has been freed from teaching daily classes so that she can assist other teachers throughout the day. She gets results. "I give everybody every secret I know," she said. "I’m really into getting teachers to perform, and showing them that this is our future. This is our Social Security." Gutierrez taught at the district’s nationally acclaimed California Academy of Mathematics and Science for four years before joining Lindbergh’s staff, where she has made a difference for a decade. Lindbergh has achieved incredible success helping students from less advantaged families. Among statewide schools with similar socioeconomic challenges, Lindbergh is rated a top 10 on a scale of 10. "We do whatever it takes," Gutierrez said. "If a student doesn’t have a binder, we’ll find him one." She and other staff members have learned to spot the telltale signs of a student who has gone without breakfast. "If a student arrives late and he looks like he can’t concentrate, we approach him and say, ‘Are you hungry? Let’s go get some food.’ Everyone swings into action. The cafeteria helps out. We get the student a quick snack, and then he’s able to learn." Gutierrez each day drives 47 miles one-way to work from Sherman Oaks. She could teach anywhere but chooses to stay at Lindbergh. "I love it here," Gutierrez said. "I wouldn’t miss a day. I truly love the kids here. We’re touching their lives daily."