Lakeridge Elementary bucks its low-performing label
By  Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff

Lakeridge Elementary, featured in an Education Lab storylast year, has spent the past five years working to get off the state’s list of chronically under-performing schools.

Now it has. And on Wednesday, a bunch of well-dressed officials showed up at the Renton-area school to celebrate, leading an all-school assembly complete with cupcakes and balloons, and lots of hugs.

For Principal Jessica Calabrese, it felt like an out-of-body experience.

“It was really that moment when you can step out of yourself for a moment,” she said. “I thought ‘Wow, I’ve envisioned succeeding, and it really happened.’ ”

Three other Washington schools also bucked their low-performing labels this year — Morton Junior-Senior High and Onalaska Middle in southwest Washington, and Soap Lake Middle and Senior High in the central part of the state.

A few years ago, all four schools were in the lowest 5 percent in the state when it came to a three-year average of reading and math scores on state tests. At Lakeridge, math was the biggest problem. Now its students score above the state average in that subject and in third-grade reading. And fourth- and fifth-graders score close to the average in reading, too.

Calabrese said one of the surprises Wednesday was that Lakeridge not only has risen out of the bottom ranks, but rates “very good” on the State Board of Education’s achievement index, only one step down from “exemplary.”

To help students understand why a bunch of strangers in suits were at their assembly, Calabrese said she asked them if they’d ever set a really hard goal. And then she told them that their teachers had set such a goal, and the visitors had come to tell them if they’d reached it.

So what’s next?

Maintaining focus, Calabrese said, and continue building on the kind of in-school teacher training that’s been one big key to the school’s rise. And keeping the faith that, when it comes to math, if teachers concentrate on building students’ conceptual understanding, better test scores will follow.