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NBRS Award Winners

Find this year's schools on our National Blue Ribbon Schools award winners list

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John S. Wash Elementary School 2009 NBR School

Sanger Unified School District
Fresno, California

Five years ago, John Wash Elementary School was struggling to accommodate a rapidly growing, increasingly diverse student population. Today, it is a California Distinguished School and a 2009 U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School, driven by high expectations, shared accountability, and a focus on learning outcomes. “We realized that hoping to do better was not a strategy. To be successful with the students we had now, we had to change,” said Superintendent Marc Johnson. The strategy entailed Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), Pyramids of Intervention, Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), and support for English Language Learners.

Wesley Sever, John Wash principal during this transformation, was charged with designing, defining, and implementing the structures for improvement. School leaders, faculty, parents, and students rose to share responsibility for learning. Teachers received time to work in grade-level PLCs to analyze student achievement data, plan EDI lessons, and monitor whole-class and individual student progress against rigorous learning standards. The school leadership team of administrators, PLC leaders, and resource specialists meets monthly to analyze and discuss SMART goals, intervention strategies, professional development, and progress toward improvement benchmarks.

John Wash uses a three-tiered intervention pyramid to identify and respond to student needs early. Teachers differentiate strategies for whole group instruction and test for understanding and mastery in guided and independent practice. The master schedule allows daily small-group time for students performing below grade level, English learners who need focused language instruction, and students achieving above grade level who are ready for academic enrichment. During this time, all classroom and resource teachers instruct student groups drawn from different classrooms and grade levels, with precise monitoring and fluid movement among groups.

Defining Moments of School Change. Marc Johnson, Sanger USD Superintendent, recaps the John Wash Elementary turn-around story. He identifies the guiding principles and practices that contributed to the transformation and highlights the role of leadership, high expectations, collaborative culture, and shared accountability in meeting the needs of all students. Read the transcript of “Defining Moments of School Change.”
Professional Learning Communities Powered by Data. The success of John Wash derives, in part, from grade-level Professional Learning Communities that use assessment results to guide instruction and intervention. Essential standards are assessed through summative, district-wide, and grade-level assessments administered three times a year as well as weekly, formative grade-level assessments created by each PLC. Teams share accountability for all students’ success and support each other in resolving instructional challenges. Read the transcript of “Professional Learning Communities Powered by Data.”
Focus on Professional Development. John Wash commits time, energy, and resources to professional development. Administrators, teachers, and resource personnel use a common instructional language. Teams collaborate to plan and master explicit, direct instructional practices with precise lesson designs and delivery. Teachers use think-alouds, graphic organizers, and white boards to check for student understanding. English learners are paired with native speakers as peer partners, and teachers motivate all students by switching from teacher talk to partner talk throughout classroom lessons. Read the transcript of “Focus on Professional Development.”

Contact Information

John S. Wash Elementary School
6350 East Lane
Fresno, CA 93727-5732
Phone (559) 524-6320, Fax (559) 251-2643

Student Demographics
2009-2010 Academic Year

Demographic Feature Data
Number of Students K-6 737
Students eligible for subsidized meals 63%
Limited English proficient students 31%
Students receiving special education services  4%
Asian students 41%
Hispanic students 38%
White students 16%
African American students  2%
Students of two or more races  3%
Average teacher turnover, last 5 years  3%
Student:Teacher ratio  23:1