For the past six years, Minnesota schools have been reaching towards a goal of increasing student performance using a state mandated bill passed in 2013, called the World's Best Workforce.

Verndale Public School used a community gathering to not just explain the schools steps in improving student success, but to also gather input from the community on what they thought is working or isn't working for the students. As school staff expressed, in order to reach top-level goals, it requires involvement from families as well as school staff.

Goal areas for the World's Best Workforce include five areas, including getting all kids ready for school, getting all third-graders reading at grade level, closing racial and economic achievement gaps, preparing students for careers and college and making sure all students graduate. These goals cover the full spectrum of grades within the school. The goals are measured based on two to three benchmarks for each category rather than relying on one.

All children are ready for school

The school has a goal where 100% of the students who attend the Verndale School Readiness program will score at or above target level in at least one benchmark. In the 2017-2018 school year, 16 of 23, or 70% of those students scored ready for kindergarten. This does not include all students, just students that went through the readiness program.

What's being done?

Steps taken to increase readiness in the 2018-2019 year included a kindergarten through second-grade intervention teacher, Reading Corps, Foster Grandparents, Math Recovery, All Hands on Deck/What I Need (WIN) Model.

Follingstad said the WIN Model is more small group time focused on something specific for students at their level.

"Every kid is getting small group instruction instead of just pulling out a few kids who are struggling," school principal Arick Follingstad said. It's not just help for those struggling, it's actually helping advanced students work harder, too.

More one-on-one came in at the start of the 2019 year as there are now two Title I/intervention teachers, the WIN model was expanded to the entire elementary and use of Foster Grandparents and Math Recovery continued.

All third-graders can read at grade level

If by third grade students are not proficient in several reading assessments done by the school, students will be at a major disadvantage moving forward. Through third grade children are learning to read; after third grade students read to learn, according to the Children's Reading Foundation.

The school has a goal of 80% of all third-grade students achieving grade level literacy. In the 2018-2019 school year, just 64% achieved that level.

What's being done?

Last year, a grade 3-4 intervention teacher was added along with Reading Corp, targeted services and What I Need (WIN) Model. In this school year Two Title I/Intervention teachers, continued use of WIN model and targeted services, use of accelerated reading program, setting reading goals including a 40 book challenge and bi-weekly math and reading data meetings. One teacher shared that some students are already at 30 books.

All racial and economic achievement gaps between students are closed

The school has a goal of reducing the achievement gap in reading and math for students qualifying for the free and reduced-price meal program as measured by scoring at proficient level on the MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assement). That gap was closed in 2019, but those gaps changed based on the students that come in and those that graduate from the school, not based on the actual student achievement.

Follingstad noted that there is not enough racially diverse population to get an accurate picture of a racial gap. So they look at the economic disparity, where there is a difference.

"I wouldn't call this a win," Follingstad said. "We actually closed the achievement gap by having both groups perform lower."

Summer slide concerns

One unique idea Superintendent Paul Brownlow turned over was converting a school van into a bookmobile that brought the books to the students during the summer when students have limited access depending on where they live. He suggested a stop in places like Bluegrass. Follingstad said this lack of reading in the summertime is a major contributor to "summer slide." He shared how the school can easily view how students fall back several reading levels over the summer when the students are not reading daily anymore.

"The achievement gap doesn't happen during the school year, it happens during the summer, which is sad but true," Follingstad said.

This brought further discussion from the group when Follingstad asked those present to think of ways they can get parents on board with keeping kids reading through the summer. Follingstad the achievement gap was less about income and more about year-round reading.

Almost monthly, students are checked on their reading level. Follingstad said during the course of last summer, 32 students lost 48 reading levels, or about 1.5 levels per student.

One effort to get kids doing some fun learning during the summer of 2019 was sent out to 200 students, but only 13 completed forms were returned. The staff expressed a desire to collaborate with families.

"What do you think as a parent or community member will work to get our kids excited about learning," Follingstad said.

All students are ready for career and college

In 2017-2018, 100% of graduating seniors met one or more of the college and career readiness measures. This is measured from National Career Readiness Certificate assessment, Bridges Career Academy Certificates and ACT College Readiness Benchmark Data. Last year, 38 out of 39 students were college or career ready.

Of the 2019 graduates, 25 are in post-secondary education; two are in apprenticeships; one entered the National Guard and 11 are in the workforce.

Follingstad noted that the school has nearly 50 post-secondary class options. Some students have graduated with an AA degree.

What else can be done?

The school plans to host a Reality Fair for juniors and seniors this year. This reality fair will be open to community members to share their real-world knowledge with students. This gives real-world situations like paying bills, taxes, even what to do if you've been given a traffic citation. The school also plans to offer college-level band.

All students graduate from high school

The school had a goal of 95% of students graduating in the 2018-2019 school year and 98% (all but one) graduated.

What's next?

Following the talk from staff, the community members were tasked with discussing in small groups what is or is't working in their opinion at the school. That information will be summarized and shared during parent teacher conferences, which are coming up from 3:30 - 7 p.m., Oct. 28-29.