Teachers at Sheridan Hills Elementary School are hoping for a banner year of academic achievement after making the best progress in the metro last year at improving test scores.
Classes don't start until Tuesday, but teachers say they are ready to get going.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know all of my students," said Theresa Halpern, a second-grade teacher who hopes to raise the grade again this year. "We are definitely heading in the right direction."
It might seem odd to find optimism in the halls of Sheridan Hills after the Department of Education singled it out as one of the worst-performing schools in the state -- but the big gains made last year have the school looking toward the future with enthusiasm and hope.
Minnesota is now measuring its schools on a multiple measurement rating, or MMR, that replaces the old No Child Left Behind. The rating looks at student data and measures them on a number of criteria -- including proficiencies, achievement gap and student growth.
The rating is then used to qualify a school as "priority school" if it needs extra work, but teachers at Sheridan Hill are making remarkable progress under the new system.
Test scores show math proficiencies jumped 52 percent last year; reading proficiencies rose by 23 percent. Both those gains were among the highest improvements in the metro -- especially for a school were 68 percent of students are minorities.
School officials say the secret was focusing on what teachers call "first-time instruction."
"That means: If a teacher is wanting to teach a lesson on multiplication, that when the teacher is providing the instruction from the curriculum… it is in a manner that can be absorbed from the students the first time," explained Sheridan Hills Principal Jodi Markworth. "If [students] need additional support, that would happen in small-group instruction."
Teachers say the success can be attributed to an increased focus on individual attention during instruction.
"We've really honed in on what each child needs and tried to develop teaching practices to meet those specific needs," Halpern explained.
Now, Sheridan Hills Elementary hopes to be the first school to jump from a priority school to a rewards school.