Educating with honors

Saturday, December 4, 2004

It's difficult to determine just what makes Blanchard Elementary School special because the spotlight is constantly shifting from one person to the next.

Principal Dr. Barb Kohlfeld says it's her staff that makes the school unique. Teachers say it's Kohlfeld. Parents say it's both. Everyone can agree a big part of it lies with the students.

In the end, that's what it always comes down to at Blanchard: the students.

"We call ourselves the school with a heart. Some people may think that's cheesy, but what makes us special is affection," Kohlfeld said.

Four months ago, Kohlfeld wasn't certain how many of her students would remain at Blanchard through the semester.

The Cape Girardeau elementary had failed to score high enough on state tests to meet new federal guidelines the year before, and a second failure this year would mean paying for students to transfer to a better-performing school.

When the scores came through in August, Blanchard not only met this year's requirements but exceeded the 2005 requirements as well.

Because of progress on this year's state tests as well as staff qualifications, Blanchard ranked first among 37 schools from 13 districts in Southeast Missouri on this year's annual school report cards in an analysis by the Southeast Missourian.

The report cards, released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, contain some 30 different indicators designed to give parents a look at how successful their child's school is.

Though faced with the challenges of having more than 70 percent low-income students, Blanchard consistently ranked among the top three in the majority of indicators this year.

Kohlfeld attributes her school's beating-the-odds story to some basic practices used by staff and students alike.

"Numbers are important, but there's a lot of other stuff that's a precursor to that," she said.

Discipline is one of those precursors. Kohlfeld believes a well-behaved child is the first step in the learning process. Under her leadership, Blanchard has adopted the Boys Town social skills model of discipline.

Every morning, students review a weekly social skill, such as the proper way to get a teacher's attention or learning how to make introductions.

"The climate here is unlike any in the other schools I've been in. Not that the others are bad, but when you walk in Blanchard you immediately know something is different," said Dana Dickerson, a psychological examiner at Blanchard. "Every student that comes through the doors becomes ours."

Blanchard is home to 283 students, 41 percent of whom are minorities. The school averages 16 students for every classroom teacher, below the state average of 19. Teachers there have an average 16.9 years of experience, and all are fully certified.

Though the data recorded in the annual report cards focuses on teachers, Blanchard literacy coach Theresa Burke said the talent and quality extends to other staff as well, such as cafeteria workers and secretaries.

"We all work as one big family, and we all have big expectations for students," Burke said.

Despite the school's success on this year's state tests and its high ranking on the report cards, Kohlfeld said meeting Blanchard's challenges requires constant toil on everyone's part.

"If it were easy, it wouldn't be as rewarding," Kohlfeld said. "This takes the best of what we've got every day."

335-6611, ext. 128

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