Photo by Dani Wilson
A second-grade class at Hartford Elementary prepares for a spelling test.
Hartford Elementary School recently received a major honor — an Academic Improvement Award from the state of Illinois.
The award honors 125 schools that show the most progress on Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores.
Principal Heather Johnson said although the school “has a couple of notches” against it — at 76 percent low-income students, there are many needs — they are making big improvements.
Johnson said the improvement is largely due to the school’s staff.
“This could never have been accomplished without everyone. The staff has done a phenomenal job,” she said. “They really embrace the children here.” Johnson says the ISATs are a schoolwide effort, rallying students and staff to support test-takers.
“Our cook reads with the kids,” Johnson said.
This is not only the strategy during ISAT week — Johnson said the whole school year is a continued effort from students and staff to help each child succeed.
“Our staff has nothing but the best interest for our students and families,” Johnson said.
The students are encouraged to learn from teachers, other staff members and one another.
“Every single person is viewed as a teacher — even the kids,” Johnson said.
Johnson cited other examples of an academic culture that aims to ensure students’ success. For instance, cafeteria workers make sure to have breakfast ready for tardy students who missed their first meal. Teachers are willing to take students aside to help or offer guidance whether or not the student is in their class.
“Everyone takes every child as their responsibility,” Johnson said.
The school’s curriculum and policies also have changed in the past few years. Not only have they started a new reading curriculum, they have implemented an intervention program for students in academic trouble. Students meet with teachers and parents in either individual or small group conferences and look at the student’s progress, address issues and find solutions. Johnson said the staff takes care to have a clear idea of “where students are.” If the students are not meeting standards, they get a “little shot from the doctor — or whatever they need to improve.”
Johnson also spoke highly of the community of Hartford and its willingness to support the school. She says the Hartford fire and police departments have been available to help with school projects and safety precautions, such as safe driving signs lining the road by the school. Hartford Elementary also has support from local churches and the village of Hartford, and a very active parents’ club.
“This is the best community in the whole world … it’s amazing,” Johnson said.