The metro is home to five “exemplary high” achieving schools 

click to enlarge Senior Omar Camacho right explains how local college students visit Dove Science Academy OKC on Thursdays to mentor and help students like himself and Damaris Palma left with science homework. (Photo Garett Fisbeck)
  • Photo Garett Fisbeck
  • Senior Omar Camacho right explains how local college students visit Dove Science Academy OKC on Thursdays to mentor and help students like himself and Damaris Palma left with science homework.

Dove Science Academy OKC

Nearly all educators are familiar with the mantra, “All children can learn.” At Dove Science Academy OKC, teachers not only stand by that statement but work to ensure its truth. The college preparatory charter school provides varying instructional approaches to match learning styles of students and consistently exposes students to high-quality instruction, explained Arthur Easton, who is in his 14th year as the school’s history and government teacher.

“For teachers to succeed here, they must believe that all students can learn,” Easton said. “If a kid fails, you failed as a teacher. If you take that in and take it to heart, it will affect your teaching and your style. You take it personally.”

In late September, the U.S. Department of Education honored Dove Science Academy OKC in the coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools program, which honors the nation’s top schools. Six Oklahoma schools received the prestigious honor.

The other honorees from the metro are Centennial Elementary School in Edmond, Cheyenne Middle School in Edmond, Earl Harris Elementary School in Bethany and Grove Valley Elementary School in Edmond. All schools were honored as Exemplary High Performing Schools, based on their state test scores, graduation rates and other performance-related criteria.

At Dove, the mission is for each student to reach their potential, and the goal is for each student to continue their education beyond high school. Five years after the charter opened its doors as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-focused middle and high school in northwest Oklahoma City, its students — mostly minorities — were posting high scores in areas of reading, math and science on state exams. Over the past decade, students’ scores haven’t faltered. Teachers focus on other programs and achievements to share how the school prepares students for the future.

Students in upper grades have the opportunity to take advanced placement courses and concurrent college courses with Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC). Some students are in EXCELerate Dove, which combines the final two years of high school and the first two years of college into a single program allowing students to graduate high school and receive an associate’s degree at the same time. Further, the school is a Project Lead The Way campus, offering elective courses for biomedicine.

“We have the teachers that are interested in you,” said Omar Camacho, a 12th-grader.

The school’s physics, biology and engineering courses, coupled with local college students volunteering to mentor and tutor, encouraged him to study medicine when he graduates this spring.

Dove has helped prepare 12th-grader Damaris Palma, the oldest of three children, and her family for college. Palma said families visit the school often for parent sessions on how to help students apply for college and access financial aid. Alumni visit the school regularly to answer students’ questions about how to adjust to college and succeed academically.

The school’s greatest strength is its teachers, Palma said.

“This school provides a lot of good opportunity for one-on-one with teachers,” Palma said. “If you don’t understand, you can always go to another teacher. They will help you.”

click to enlarge Superintendent Umit Alpasian observes a seventh-grade English class at Dove Science Academy, which was one of six Oklahoma schools named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017. (Photo Garett Fisbeck)
  • Photo Garett Fisbeck
  • Superintendent Umit Alpasian observes a seventh-grade English class at Dove Science Academy, which was one of six Oklahoma schools named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017.

Bethany’s Earl Harris Elementary School

To find one of the metro’s best-performing school districts, drive along NW 39th Street to the tight-knit community of Bethany. There, Bethany Public Schools is spread across two city blocks. While the community is small, it’s proud of the district. Community members give their time and talents to the schools in a variety of ways.

This fall, Bethany’s Earl Harris Elementary School became the second Bethany school to be named a National Blue Ribbon School. Three years earlier, the high school received the honor. Like the high school, part of Earl Harris’ application outlined the community’s role in its success.

At Earl Harris Elementary School, parents are visible volunteering on Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) committees, participating in classroom activities, chaperoning field trips and planning the fifth-grade promotion celebration. Additionally, retired alumni volunteer with the school and Southern Nazarene University students serve as reading tutors.

Each year, Earl Harris students raise donations for The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital located two blocks south of the district campus. Some of the patients attend classes at Earl Harris.

“We want our community to be part of our school, and we want our schools to be part of the community,” said Superintendent Drew Eichelberger.

Earl Harris faces challenges not unique to urban schools. Federal funds flow into the school’s coffer for having a high percentage of students from low-income families. The school’s population of English Language Learners has increased in recent years. Eichelberger explained the school’s principal, Reuben Bellows, and its staff continues the Bethany tradition of promoting character, academic motivation and academic expectations.

“We have a great community, great staff and great students,” Eichelberger said.

Deer Creek’s Grove Valley Elementary School

Four years ago, under the leadership of Principal Kelly Faught-McCoy, Grove Valley Elementary School entered a pilot program developed by the Marzano Research Laboratory. As a leader, she knew that any change required the support of key stakeholders. With teachers, staff, students and parents working together, the school began to move through the program’s five levels to build a safe and collaborative climate, ensure effective instruction, produce viable curriculum to each student and more.

Along the way, the school ushered in the concepts of blended and personalized learning into the classrooms. By combining face-to-face and online instruction, teachers were able to adopt a single session into varying instruction levels according to the needs of their students.

“It opens up many different possibilities for our students,” Faught-McCoy said. “With technology, we can personalize it to the level a student is working at. Students who can work at a more advanced level can do that. With students who need more remediation, we can do that.”

The results are evident, from engaging students to academic mastery in math and reading. Not only were parents satisfied, but the school’s PTO raised more than $20,000 to purchase additional iPads to further the personalized and blending learning models.

Grove Valley’s approach to curriculum and classroom instruction has earned the school its first Blue Ribbon and a fifth for Edmond’s Deer Creek School District.

“I believe that the best thing about Grove Valley is the students,” Faught-McCoy said. “They come to school, for the most part, very prepared. We have very supportive parents who are involved in their children’s education. That makes our job so much easier. The staff that I have is the most professional, hard-working, dedicated group of teachers I’ve ever work with.”

Edmond’s Centennial Elementary School

“We work really hard to have a positive school climate,” Principal Jessele Miller said when asked what makes Centennial Elementary School so special. “Teachers and staff know they’re appreciated. When you have happy teachers, you have happy students and happy parents.”

And from those happy teachers, students and parents comes enthusiasm for the school and efforts to support it. It’s not uncommon to see a parent preparing classroom materials or a father eating lunch with students and then walking the school’s perimeter for a safety check, explained Miller. Since the school’s inception in 2007, the PTO has raised substantial funds to benefit the classroom through its Family Fun Nights, Stampede of Giving and other events.

In addition to academics, the school prides itself on its character development program, which promotes high expectations among students and faculty. Through the Great Expectations program, students and faculty have built a culture of respect around Centennial. The school’s mascot Buddy the Buffalo encourages students to be buddies, not bullies.

“When you get everyone on the same page for student behavior and you have student engagement, the academics fall into place,” Miller said.

The curriculum supports are factors allowing Centennial students to perform well academically. Another reason is the teachers, who are known for staying after school to work with struggling students or attending students’ athletic or fine arts programs outside of school.

Nov. 16, the school will celebrate 10 years serving Edmond Public School students as well as a National Blue Ribbon. The honor validates what the school’s faculty, students and parents already know, Miller said. Centennial is a school with strong leadership, devoted teachers and parents and students who take pride in their school.

“We focus as much as possible on the positive,” Miller said. “We are committed to doing what is best for our students.”

Edmond’s Cheyenne Middle School

At Cheyenne, one of Edmond Public Schools’ six middle schools, Principal Michelle Grinsteiner spends as much time as she can away from her desk and walking the hallways. Teachers and staff replicate the warm welcome and encouragement Grinsteiner provides to the schools’ more than 800 students.

When it comes to middle school, students enter as children and leave as young adults. The mentality at Cheyenne is part quality instruction and part positive and supportive relationships to help students as they navigate classroom rigors and early adolescence.

“The foundation of this school is in educating the whole child,” Grinsteiner said. “We want to provide opportunities for kids to feel successful. Some teachers do this through their programs, like family and consumer sciences and our Gateway to Technology programs. Many teachers bring real-world learning into their classrooms. …[The students] all have some kind of relationship with a teacher, an administrator or their counselor.”

In late September, Grinsteiner announced, over the school’s PA system, that Cheyenne had been named a national Blue Ribbon School for the second time. A banner marking the achievement from eight years ago is prominently displayed in the school’s cafeteria, visible when visitors enter the front office.

Grinsteiner said the school’s continued innovation in curriculum and instruction in areas of problem solving and technology is key to its second ribbon. In addition to learning in core subjects, students have unique learning opportunities through coding and STEM lessons, an outdoor classroom, fine arts and school clubs.

“We are changing as society changes,” Grinsteiner said. “We try to provide the opportunities that kids want.”

Print headline: Top schools; The metro is home to five “exemplary high” achieving schools.

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