Franklin Elementary School students walked out of their classrooms Dec. 20 for winter break, and when they walked back in on Tuesday, they stepped into the second school in Middle Tennessee to be named a 2019 National ESEA Distinguished School.
Franklin Elementary was recognized by the organization for the exceptional performance of its students and academic growth over the past two years — one of 73 schools in the country to receive such a recognition. Principal Anne Riley credited the skills and diligence of the school’s teaching and coaching staff and the community engagement that makes Franklin Elementary a big ol’ family.
“That is probably the cornerstone. We have a great community,” Riley said. “One of our teachers says it feels like a family, and it does. It’s a warm, welcoming place to be, and that makes it so kids can learn.”
According to its website, The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators — formerly called the National Title I Association — has been recognizing schools across the nation for outstanding performance for 24 years in one of three areas: “exceptional student performance and academic growth for two or more consecutive years,” “closing the achievement gap between student groups for two or more consecutive years” and “excellence in serving special populations of students,” such as homeless or migrant students or English learners.
Franklin Elementary was recognized in the first category. On a local level, the Tennessee Department of Education named the school a 2019 Reward School and gave it the highest rating in overall student growth and academic achievement on the State Report Card in the 2018-19 year. Additionally, first-grade teacher Melissa Miller was named the 2018-19 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
David Snowden, the Franklin Special School District director, praised the school’s attention to and implementation of student data as teachers and coaches continually work to adjust their instruction.
“The academic growth of all students is grounded in the focus and dedication by the teachers, staff members and leadership at Franklin Elementary,” he said. “Their consistent use of student data to inform instructional decisions remains paramount in their work each day.”
Riley explained that reading and math coaches filter in and out of the school’s classrooms throughout the year, assisting with instruction, monitoring the students’ progress and developing relationships with the kids and teachers. Reading coach Niki Sidler explained that benchmark testing allows the teaching staff to fit their instruction to the needs of their kids, particularly in their daily interventions, where each student gets time to work on a specific skill that could use improvement.
Student success isn’t all about math and reading, Riley said. She is also very proud of the school’s fine arts programs.
Jennifer Alvarado, the school’s art teacher, spends most of her day in a color-splashed classroom, fostering creative skills among the student body. She said that the school’s PTO and a couple other parents held a fundraiser last year specifically for the fine arts program, and with that money, Alvarado decided to incorporate artist visits and field trips into her teaching.
Many of the students will take a free trip to Frist Art Museum in Nashville this year, and all of the students are participating in a loom project with weaver Vickie Vipperman. Alvarado is having each student bring in a piece of fabric that holds significance for them. They will cut each piece into strips and weave it into a 20-foot tapestry to represent the school. Each child’s fabric will be tightly integrated into the piece with little bits peeking out to show the details of the unique material.
“Our school is just such a really special place. It’s a family, and we’re such a community,” Alvarado said. “So, I thought this would be such a beautiful visual representation of how every single person is unique on their own, but when we come together, we can create such a masterpiece.”
Music teacher Patrick Bourn also focuses on teaching music theory and skills, such as controlling vocal pitch, in a room filled with acoustic guitars, xylophones and an upright piano.
Riley said that opportunities to invite the families into the students’ creative and academic world throughout the year only strengthens the community feel that brings the school together.
“It absolutely makes kids more confident when they’re performing, when their art is showcased,” she said. “It makes them proud of who they are and what they do, and it is an opportunity for us to have our community come and form strong bonds with us and each other.”