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'High expectations and love and compassion': Denver school details journey to improved rating

Eagleton Elementary moved to 'green' in 2019
School bus
Posted at 5:46 AM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 19:38:19-04

DENVER — Improving a school's performance ratings can be hard work, but at least one elementary school in Denver managed to do it.

Between 2016 and 2019, Eagleton Elementary went from having low performance ratings to performing in the "green," which means a school is meeting expectations on the majority of performance metrics.

Administrators says that campus culture, restorative justice and a different approach to academics played a role in the change.

"When students walk into our building, they are greeted by at least two to three staff members," said Janine Dillabaugh, the principal of Eagleton Elementary. "That is before they even walk through the front door of their classroom."

The Title 1 school has also taken on a trauma-informed approach, hiring a restorative justice coordinator to work with students facing behavioral issues.

"The restorative approach is based on relationships," said Raymond Simmons, the school's restorative approach coordinator. "We’re gonna get to the bottom of things, and we’re gonna teach and reteach these kids those skills that are missing in the school grounds."

As recently as 2016 and 2018, Eagleton Elementary was on "priority improvement plans," meaning the Colorado Department of Education found that it was "falling short of state expectations" for students in some areas.

Part of the school's improvement plan included working with teachers on new instruction plans.

"We have worked to really ground teachers in the standards, unpacking standards, knowing what the standards require of their instruction, so that they're providing grade level rigorous work for our students," Dillabaugh said.

It appears those choices paid off by 2019. Eagleton moved its performance needle to the highest level, the Performance Plan school rating.

Throughout this month, Colorado students are taking some of their state assessments. Schools like Eagleton are hoping they can keep their strong performances going after ratings were paused for two years due to the pandemic.

Despite the attention that Eagleton's faculty has paid to improving the school's scores, Dillabaugh knows that the students are more than just numbers.

"I think one of the most amazing things about Eagleton is that we have a really nice balance of high expectations and love and compassion," she said.