Three Sacajawea Middle School eighth-graders who once struggled with reading told Bozeman School Board trustees that they've really improved, thanks to the school's reading strategies teacher.

Before taking Eileen Zombro's class, "I hated reading," Tabatha said. Now her grades are improving.

"What I've learned in her class is practice makes perfect," David said. "Ms. Zombro is a great teacher. She's teaching us how ... to understand what we're reading."

"Now I can read more than one book a month," said Stefan.

Zombro, Sacajawea's reading specialist and intervention teacher, won the Bozeman School District's $2,000 Cashman-Rinker Scholarship in June. She used the money to take a summer course at New York's Stony Brook University on teaching news and media literacy.

Now she's teaching her students how to be "critical readers" of newspapers like the Chronicle, as well as tweets and other information sources.

That's just one of many ways that Sacajawea is focusing on each individual student, Principal Gordon Grissom told the School Board at a lunch meeting Tuesday. Trustees are visiting one of Bozeman's 10 schools each week to learn about the schools' progress and challenges.

"We make great efforts to put kids first, whether they're struggling readers or gifted students," said Grissom, whose school has about 640 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Sacajawea students in general do quite well on the state's standardized tests. In reading, on average 95 percent of Sacajawea students scored at grade level or higher on the state test this spring, exceeding the state's target of 83 percent.

In math, 81 percent of all Sacajawea students scored at grade level or better. That's higher than the state target of 68 percent, and getting close to the school's own goal of 84 percent, said Joe Moriarty, assistant principal. Eighth-graders alone scored at 89 percent, he said, which was "very encouraging" for teachers

The school supports struggling students with extra instruction time in reading and math, while also offering gifted students extra time for enrichment.

Although overall test scores are high at Sacajawea, under the federal No Child Left Behind law it has been labeled as not making adequate yearly progress. That's because of low math scores among low-income students, and low math and reading scores for students with disabilities.

Only 16 percent of Sacajawea students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, about a third less than at Bozeman's other middle school, Chief Joseph.

To help struggling students, Sacajawea is using the same strategies used in other Bozeman schools, such as relying more on student data, intervening right away when a problem is found, and having teachers work closely together to find the best ways to help students.

"We don't want kids to fall through the cracks," Grissom said.

To improve student behavior, Sacajawea is also taking many steps, such as giving a group of students anti-bullying training, holding town hall-style meetings, employing a behavioral interventionist and doing more to recognize students for positive behavior.

Trustee Ed Churchill said he heard from a parent who was concerned that there wasn't communication from the school about a school field trip that resulted in student expulsions. Seven eighth-graders were caught using marijuana on a fall school camp-out and were expelled by the School Board.

Grissom said the school has to balance informing the school community against the need to protect students' privacy.

Last year more than 1,000 Sacajawea students were "caught" by teachers or staff doing something right, which qualified them for the school's 200 Club and the chance to phone home to tell their parents about their good behavior, Moriarty said.

Seeing that even inspired one student in in-school suspension to want to join the 200 Club, he added.

The trustees applauded the school's staff and students.

"It's a great place," Grissom said of Sacajawea.

 

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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