Berkeley’s Malcolm X Arts and Academics Magnet, an elementary school that integrates art and academics, has been awarded the Title One Academic Achievement award for 2008-2009.
The award honors 200 Title I-funded California schools that show academic growth for two or more years or that significantly close the achievement gap. Schools must have an Academic Performance Index (API) score above its category’s median score, have met their API goals for the past two years, and show strong API growth for at least one of its socioeconomically disadvantage subgroups.
For the staff and parents of Malcolm X, the award recognizes years of dedication to improving education for all students.
“We’ve been working on our mission to close the achievement gap for a good three years of focus on it,” said Cheryl Chinn, principal of Malcolm X.
“The award is for schools that really improve their performance with economically disadvantaged students,” said Michael Mascuch, chair of the school’s site governance council. “What makes Malcolm X’s achievement remarkable is that economically disadvantaged students have made really significant academic progress alongside their peers in other subgroups. The success of the disadvantaged students has not come at the expense of other students; instead, all kids are thriving together.”
The school developed a three-pronged strategic plan that focused on monitoring and assessing underperforming students, strong intervention programs to help students before they fall behind, and teacher collaboration and professional development.
“One is not isolated from the others,” Chinn said. “You have to have each piece.”
In a program called Project Connect, Malcolm X teachers target four students functioning below their grade level for twice weekly after-school tutoring and additional help. The school also has a program designed to help disadvantaged first-graders meet their reading goals. Additionally, parents are required to attend Saturday workshops focused on helping their children reach academic success.
The school has employed training from the Foundation for Comprehensive Early Learning Literacy and Extended Literacy Learning, which provides literacy-based continual professional development for teachers. The program targets new teachers but offers ongoing professional development for all staff members.
Kathy Burns, a parent of Malcolm X students and former member of the school’s site governance council, credited the dedication of the staff to programs like Project Connect as the key to the school’s success.
“I think it was a very concerted effort among the teachers to try and track the underperforming students,” she said.
Although Chinn emphasized that all of the approaches working in tandem led to the school’s success, Mascuch, Burns and other parents identify Chinn’s leadership as a driving force in reaching its goals.
The elementary school has worked carefully to spread its funding and attention across its art programs and its academic intervention programs, balancing the needs of both gifted and struggling children.
“The visual and performing arts provide learning opportunities that enhance classroom teaching, and enable delivery of education to multiple and diverse learning styles among the student population,” Mascuch said. “The Malcolm X school community appreciates and supports this combination of arts and academics in education, which is yet another reason for the school’s strong performance.”
Although the award offers no financial bonuses, the symbolic value of the recognition is sufficient reward for the members of a diverse school community.
“I think the gratification that we’re achieving our goal of closing the achievement gap is enough to keep us working hard,” Chinn said.
Recipients of the award will be honored at an awards ceremony and banquet in Orange County on April 28, 2009.