The Portland Schools Foundation has awarded Faubion Elementary School its prestigious "Sustaining Excellence in Education" award for having closed the achievement gap and for having maintained that level of excellence for the past six years.
The awards are given to Portland schools with large minority or low-income populations that have greatly improved their reading and math scores.
Faubion, a mainly African American school where 76 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, has far exceeded the state averages in reading and math benchmarks with 95 percent of its students meeting or exceeding reading benchmarks and 91 percent doing the same in math.
In 2006, 95 percent of Faubion's Black students met or exceeded reading benchmarks.
"Faubion is closing the achievement gap," says Joan Vallejo of the Portland Schools Foundation. "One of Faubion's focuses is on enriching the core curriculum for their students who don't always have the opportunity for enrichment that other students have."
The Northeast Portland elementary was one of five schools that received a 2007 Excellence in Education award. The other schools were Astor, Clark, Vestal and Woodmere elementary schools.
"These schools are making incredible achievement gains and proving that it can be done," says Steffeni Mendoza Gray, chairwoman of the 2007 Excellence in Education Awards committee. "The staffs' dedication and skill are just outstanding."
Ten years ago, the word "excellence" wasn't something most people associated with Faubion. But as the public became aware that their community elementary was struggling, things began to change at Faubion.
"The community came alive and said 'This is not OK,' " says Molly Chun, principal of Faubion and a former Title I coordinator, of Faubion's former state of crisis. "It moved us all to a different place."
Over the past decade, Faubion has gone from having only half of its students meeting or exceeding reading benchmarks to having 95 percent of them at that level.
How did they do it?
School leaders held their teachers and students accountable and used the state benchmark data to track the areas where students were most in need, Vallejo says.
Then Faubion administrators focused on community outreach and tried to get parents more involved in their student's learning process.
"There is an expectation in this community that their children will succeed," says Faubion PTA President Sheila Warren.
Chun says adding to the school's core curriculum, and giving students real-life examples also is "critical to sustaining the school's academic success."
"The key is making academics relevant to the children, such as teaching about science by creating a school garden," Chun says.
Nan Evans, a third-grade teacher at Faubion, recently organized a gardening project for her students.
"Teaching is not just about pouring information (into children's heads)," Evans says. "It's about getting them interested and engaged in what they're learning."
Portland General Electric and Washington Mutual have donated money to give each of this year's Excellence in Education recipients a small grant for books and other educational materials.