SAM Visits Woodruff Elementary School

By Beth Thompson, Director of Collaborative Action Networks

The more and more progress we make on our collective impact journey, the more and more I continue to learn and be amazed at the incredible commitment to educational outcomes that already exists in our community.  Our executive director, Dr. John Stockwell, has been quoted many times as saying, “We do not have to look outside the box.  The solutions we are seeking can already be found throughout our community,” and it is true. 

The Spartanburg Academic Movement exists to improve educational outcomes for all children in our county by aligning many like-minded organizations and partners around the county with our shared vision for success, using data to focus on what is already working, spread those best practices, and facilitate the continuous improvement of practices that drive education indicators in a positive direction.   My work with the Kindergarten Success CAN has already revealed an abundance of practices that are making a difference in children’s lives every day. 

Our staff had the pleasure of visiting one of our county’s most recently named National Blue Ribbon Schools, Woodruff Elementary, where these practices are well underway

As we arrived, two incredibly cordial young boys greeted us at the door and escorted us to the “War Room.”  Later we found out that these two students are part of the school’s focus on academically struggling students, and traditionally would be part of a crowd that tends to “hide” or get over-looked when it comes to special opportunities.  Not at Woodruff Elementary School.  Every single student (and there are over 600), participates in the school activities, whether it is a part in a play, welcoming guests to the annual academic awards ceremony, or greeting guests at the front door. 

The abundance of promising practices that we witnessed at Woodruff Elementary School were phenomenal.  Here are just a few that were particularly remarkable:

  • The “War Room.”  In this room, not privy to students, teachers and administrators gather to dig into the details of student achievement.  When we arrived, not more than two or three weeks since receiving the newest data on the spring state-wide standardized assessments, there were already charts and graphs on the wall noting areas of excellence, opportunities for improvements, specific standards that needed attention, and very specific subgroups of students that needed their attention this year.  
  • Woodruff Elementary School is not just focused on charts and graphs.  The most powerful visual in the “War Room” was a wall with students’ pictures and their academic achievement so far this year.  The team at WES spends countless hours, even before the school year begins, discussing these specific students.  They carefully craft interventions for these struggling students that range from small group reading interventions to before school and after school academic programs.  The goal is to move children off of the wall – meaning they have met their academic goals for the year.  There truly is a “student behind every data point” on this wall.
  • The students have goals.  They know what they are and they are actively working to improve their own learning.  The very first page of their student agenda is a goal sheet.  With their teachers’ assistance, students write their current progress on MAP assessments (a formative assessment guiding proficiency leading up to state testing in the spring) along with their personal goals for success.  And it does not end there.  
  • On every grade-level hallway there is a bulletin board where students place their very own star in their current achievement category. As they receive and understand their assessment results, the students move their stars on the bulletin board themselves.  Also, in every classroom, you will find pyramids on the wall.  On the left-side, students describe what they are great at, ok at, can almost do, and what they do not yet know how to do.  On the right, the teacher responds with specific feedback on ways to improve. 

There were just so many amazing practices.  We were only able to scratch the surface during our visit.  
An intense deep-dive into data can sometimes feel overwhelming.  You may have heard recently in the news growing demands for less testing of our students, a call which has plenty of merit.  However, when the data generated from such assessments makes its way back into the hands of administrators, teachers, and even students, powerful learning and growth happens.  Woodruff Elementary School is seizing this opportunity, and it was truly evident in our visit that focusing on data does not have to be at the expense of any student’s ability to succeed in school. 

Woodruff Elementary School is truly a gem in Spartanburg County, and it is evident in Principal Argyl J. Brewton's dedication to the success of her students.  Yet it is only one of several National Blue Ribbon Schools within our seven school districts.  After leaving the school, our staff made a commitment to make it a priority to visit as many schools as we can, and to report back on the exciting things going on for children in Spartanburg County.