Julia Randall Earns Excellence Honor

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Julia Randall Elementary School students and teachers are "excelling."

The school has earned the top rating in the 2006-2007 Arizona Learns Achievement Profiles.

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Taran Sarnowski ponders a problem as his teacher, Mrs. Bauer, offers a hint without giving anything away. Julia Randall Elementary School recently won an Award for Excellence in the elementary school division.

This is the first time any school in the district has achieved this honor.

"We are thrilled to have the excelling label. This is an incredible accomplishment by teachers, staff and students," JRE principal Rob Varner said.

Arizona Learns measures academic ability using a point system. AIMS scores, students' progress from one school year to the next, whether that progress is adequate and graduation/dropout rates are the components of the formula.

Achievement profiles began in the 2001-2002 school year, Gila County schools superintendent Linda O'Dell said.

JRE is part of the six percent of Arizona schools to achieve the excelling label.

Varner had three goals when he became JRE's principal a little more than a year ago: to work with at-risk students, to improve student writing skills, and have teachers work together.

Payson's oldest school is one where 52 percent of the students are part of the free- or reduced-lunch program. A lot of children are from broken homes. English is a second language for a number of students.

"When you have talented teachers and academics, you can have excelling schools anywhere, even if the demographics are not

usual," PUSD superintendent Casey O'Brien said.

Teachers at JRE work with the resources available and do not complain about situations at home they cannot control, Varner said.

The principal cited more reasons JRE is excellent:

Writing has been a school-wide focus with a 30-minute block of each student's day dedicated to journal writing and composition.

Twenty-two percent of JRE students fell below standards measured by AIMS results in 2006. Students and staff worked hard. In 2007, only 11 percent fell below standards.

"I have a staff with a blue-collar attitude in a white-collar profession," Varner said.

He implemented the Professional Learning Community at JRE.

Once a week, colleagues in each grade level meet to determine best practices and strategies for improvement.

Another thing Varner said amazes him is the positive attitude of the students under his care.

"The peer pressure is to be good. I don't have a lot of discipline problems. I've heard one child tell another, ‘You're not allowed to do that here'," Varner said.

"The pieces were here when I got here. All I did was move them around and make them more effective," he added.

The three-year trend for Payson schools is positive.

"I am very pleased with the performance of all the schools. The goal is to have all the schools excelling," O'Brien said.

Arizona Learns has labeled Payson High School and Payson Elementary School "Highly Performing."

Frontier Elementary School and Rim Country Middle School earned "Performing Plus" recognition.

According to the state Department of Education's Web site, www.ade.state.az.us/, Performing Plus is an informal recognition of schools that have shown improvement or have sufficient studentsemonstrating proficiencyo earn a Highly Performing or Excelling profile, but do not have a sufficient number of students exceeding the standard.

The state classifies Payson Center for Success as an alternative school. Alternative schools are either performing or underperforming. Center for Success is "Performing."

Gila County School District's Payson and Globe Education Centers are both labeled "Performing."

Tonto Basin School is "Performing Plus."

"Pine-Strawberry School came up two notches to "Highly Performing," principal Mike Clark said.

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