Five Kern County Schools Chosen as Innovative and Impactful Schools 

Wednesday January 17, 2024

Five local schools are being recognized and honored for making a positive impact on their students. The Innovative and Impactful Schools (I2S) recognition program identified the schools across all 46 districts in Kern County that use verified systems to increase student success.  Administrators and teachers are consistently looking to improve outcomes for students. By taking the time to celebrate these schools, student success can be recognized, and a benchmark can be set for future success. 

Local educators can network with each other and focus on what schools, students, parents, teachers, and administrators can do collaboratively to further improve student outcomes. 

The I2S team made up of Greg West, Lilly Rosenberger, and Jennifer Anzalone with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS), tracked data from all Kern schools, focusing on those that met or exceeded the standards for the ELA, Math and Science Smarter Balanced Assessments. They identified 25 different schools that maintained or increased one or more of those data points. 

The 25 schools were invited to apply to be I2S candidates and 13 schools applied. Each applicant had a visit from the team, where they met and interviewed key staff members and visited classrooms.  

The I2S team chose five schools that were able to implement innovative and promising programs or practices that have shown success and sustainability.  

Each of the schools implemented different programs and practices to improve student outcomes, and all schools reported that these programs helped students grow more confident in their learning.

The five honorees and their programs are as follows:  

  • Norris Elementary: Impact Teams and Visible Learning 
  • La Vina Middle School: Writing Across the Curriculum 
  • Fruitvale Jr High: Jr. High School Walk to Learn 
  • Delano High: Non-Standard use of IAB’s 
  • Independence High: Literacy Across all Content Areas

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Delano High School – Interim Assessment Blocks 

Delano High School was chosen to be an Innovative and Impactful School because school leadership implemented the use of Interim Assessment Blocks (IABs) to help support students, especially English language learners and students with disabilities. Interim Assessment Blocks are optional tests that all local education agencies (LEAs) can use to help support student learning.  

State standardized testing occurs in junior year of high school, but Delano High students start using these practice tests as early as their freshman year.  

Shondra Walker, Principal of Delano High School says the IABs are used as a teaching tool rather than a test, and educators work together to share results and tailor curriculum to better prepare students. 

“The teachers will walk around the room, they will look at their progress, give them feedback, let them work collaboratively, so that they are getting that in-the-moment feedback rather than just taking a test,” she said. 

Walker says the school encourages collaboration to build skills and confidence, as well as identifying ways to support students. Teachers have mandatory tutorial sessions after school and students having difficulty with the IABs are automatically assigned to attend.   

Eleventh grade English teacher Sheila Lee says these practice assessments help inform and drive instruction throughout the year. She says the tests are a powerful tool to see a student’s progress and help maximize their success. 

“[It] shows us where they’re at, what we need to do to better prepare them. And it is very powerful, it’s strong, it’s what we need,” Lee said.  

Lee says taking these tests helps build confidence among students and they feel ready to take on the assessments.   

“They can’t wait to find out their scores,” she said. “When you see their faces light up, you know that that’s building their confidence.” 

The I2S team says Delano earned special recognition due to their dedication to academic excellence and belief in each student’s ability to master the necessary skills required on high-stakes assessment tests. 

Delano Senior Bles Galo took her state assessment last year. She says because of her extensive training and practice, she was able to take the test with confidence.  

“Whenever the big test came, I was like, Okay, I do tests every week, it’s literally the same thing,” she said. “It felt like any other test that she gave us.” 

Lee says these IABs are made available to all California schools, and teachers should be taking advantage of this important tool in their arsenal. 

“They’re there, they’re offered to us, so I just think why isn’t everyone using them,” she said.  

Fruitvale Jr High – Walk To Learn program 

The I2S team is recognizing Fruitvale Junior High School for its  Walk to Learn program, which uses diagnostic data to determine each student’s reading and comprehension level.  

Twice a week, students walk to assigned groups based on their reading level skills. Students are provided with targeted support and learning that they need to succeed in their English and Language Arts (ELA) core classes.  

Students read to each other in pairs and teachers can step in to offer guidance. Seventh grade ELA teacher Michelle Dmohowski says students are much more willing to participate in class if they’re allowed to practice their reading in small groups instead of trying to read in front of the whole class.  

“It allows them to be able to hear another reader reading, it allows me to jump in and offer those comprehension questions for them to access the text in a non-threatening way because they’re working with a partner of their choosing,” she said. 

The Walk to Learn program has had a positive impact on Fruitvale Students. The I2S team says the staff puts the needs of students at the forefront as they seek to meet all students where they are at. 

Erick Rouanzoin, Principal of Fruitvale says the key is to be flexible. “As the needs of students change and as the needs of teachers change you have to be able to be flexible to change it,” he said. “Open communication and meeting kids where they’re at, but also being open to what the teachers need.” 

Jessica Long, seventh and eighth grade ELA teacher says she is glad to have the freedom to change the program to meet the different needs of each individual student. 

“We’ve had a lot of support and we’ve had freedom to discuss with our administrators who are just willing to really step out and allow us to move in the direction that we all want to go,” she said. 

Long says since the Walk to Learn program began, her students have gained a lot of confidence in their reading skills. 

“They have a sense of ownership of the text which is really important, that sense of efficacy and ‘I know what I’m doing,’” she said. “That sense of pride that they come back with is probably the most powerful component of Walk to Learn.”

Dmohowski agrees. 

“Students are taking the information and taking this confidence with them to their core class,” she said.   

The I2S team says Fruitvale’s dedication to academic excellence and belief in their students has earned them this special recognition.  

Independence High School – Literacy Across all Content Areas 

Independence High School is being recognized by the Innovative and Impactful Schools team for its focus on literacy and comprehension throughout all aspects of education. 

Independence emphasized literacy as a fundamental skill that’s critical across all content areas, including mathematics, science, history and more.  

Roberto Ramirez is a chemistry and intro to physical science teacher. He says literacy, reading, and writing are all crucial building blocks to education, including science. 

“Learning science is like learning a new language because there’s a lot of vocab that goes along with it so I try to use as many opportunities to introduce reading and writing in the classroom,” he said. 

The school says it has empowered students to become critical thinkers and effective communicators, giving them the confidence to succeed in their education and later in life. 

English teacher Courtney Villasenor says student confidence is the most important thing. 

“They recognize that they are capable of doing hard things and that the supports are there to make them successful,” she said. 

The staff also meet regularly to observe each other, evaluate and implement best practices, and streamline assignments and projects so that students are prepared for academic assessments. 

Assistant Principal of Instruction Dustin Green says they do monthly check ins where teachers share information and work out best ways to grow.  

“They’re invested in it, they have enthusiasm for it,” he says. “Their willingness to work with each other and to try new things, take things back to the classroom, we’re really working well with each other.” 

Instructors also regularly attend professional development events to further their own knowledge and expand literacy strategies.  

They’re very open to professional development with each other,” Green said. “We support their work here on campus with PLC buyout days and additional time specifically around literacy or lesson design.” 

Villasenor says the success of this program is due to teachers not being afraid to take risks. 

“We have so many teachers that are willing to get out there and take chances,” she said. “It’s not going to work perfectly every time, [but] because we’re willing to have the conversations and we’re willing to take risks, our students are benefiting.”  

La Vina  Middle School – Writing Across the Curriculum 

La Vina middle school was chosen as an Innovative and Impactful School by the I2S team because of the success of its school-wide focus on Writing Across the Curriculum. 

Reading and writing are expected from English and Language Arts (ELA), but at La Vina, non-ELA teachers were asked to develop writing prompts and projects related to their subjects throughout the year to further support student writing. 

The school used the RACE strategy (Restate, Answer, Cite, Explain) to teach students effective academic writing. 

“What RACE did for us it really encapsulates everything that you need to have in a very cohesive paragraph, which is a building block to a full, complete essay,” said Rene Mendivil, District Learning Coordinator for La Vina. 

La Vina Principal Jennifer Townson says the RACE strategy has been very effective with students, giving them the tools they need to further their writing skills and giving them a strategy to succeed in their state assessments. 

“A lot of times they have difficulty because they just don’t know where to start. They don’t know what to say or how to say it, so that gives them a place to start,” she said.  

Teachers say the RACE strategy is a simple structure that allows students of all ages and skill levels to more easily organize their thoughts into paragraphs and essays.  

“It makes them reach for different words, it makes them reach for better explanations, it makes them more well-rounded,” said Daniel Bermudez, seventh grade ELA teacher.  

Isaiah Huerta, a seventh grade student, says he likes to use the RACE strategy in his writing. He says it makes it easier to get started and gives him confidence in himself.  

“[It’s] stress free because I know  this is what I need to do. If I know what to do, I can start going off of that,” he said. 

La Vina placed a high priority on making sure teachers had the professional development they needed to support student writing across all subjects. 

Townson says this would not have been successful if all the teachers did not support it. 

“In order for anything to work, staff has to buy into it,” she said. “It’s got to be something that people are dedicated to doing and that’s constantly revisited.”    

Mendivil says now the priority is continuing to learn and improve from this strategy. 

“The most important thing with any new initiative is the continuity. We found success with it, but it’s really important that we continue having success with it,” he said.     

Norris Elementary School – Impact Teams and Visible Learning 

Teachers at Norris Elementary School are able to better understand California education standards and implement best practices thanks to the school’s Impact Teams Program. 

By analyzing and deconstructing each standard, Norris formed impact teams for each grade level to collaborate and create a roadmap of student success.  

“We all need accountability, we all need a road map,” fourth grade teacher Shylo Solano said. 

She says the impact team is great for teachers and students alike. These rubrics give clear guidance and expectations for students so they can be successful in their classes. That way students know what to expect.  

“It sort of takes the subjectivity out of [it] and makes it much more objective. We have clear guidelines, we’re all on the same page,” Solano said. 

Principal Erin Hudson says the Impact Teams Program fosters collaboration and provides much needed understanding of the material and standards. 

“When they meet together and you put five brains together you really build clarity around some of those tougher standards and those high expectations of our students,” she said. 

Hudson says the students like having these clear rules to help them understand their assignments. 

“I remember a student in sixth grade, she was doing a writing assignment and she’s like I’ve been needing this this whole time, this success criteria is helping me be successful. So our students do rely on it,” she said.  

Alongside Impact Teams, which has been implemented at Norris for seven years now, the school has also aligned their program to Dr. John Hattie’s research on Visible Learning, which Hudson says Visible Learning has had a significant impact on teaching and learning.   

“A lot of studies he [Dr. Hattie] did had a really high impact on student success so we bought into that,” she said. “It really helps our students learn and grow. Then our teachers are much more likely to try those strategies and are more invested in those strategies.”   

Norris teachers are provided with 10 late start days, which allows them time to analyze data and plan lessons. Impact teams meet frequently to understand how students are learning and use that data collectively to give them the instruction they need.   

“It’s been great to see in just about every in every classroom, used by our students, by our staff,” Hudson said.  

Solano says the key to success is making sure the students and teachers alike are confident in what they’re doing. 

“When you believe in what you’re doing, if you’re excited, they’re excited, when you feel confident, they’re confident. It just works,” Solano said.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.