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Defying Odds, El Camino School Moves Out of Program Improvement

Goleta elementary campus celebrates hitting targets for academic achievement and attendance

El Camino School celebrates exiting program improvement.
El Camino School celebrates exiting program improvement.  (William Banning photo)

“How many of you are going to college?” Goleta Union School District Superintendent Bill Banning asked several hundred El Camino Elementary students packed into a multipurpose room last week.

Every hand in the room shot up.

Banning and the students, along with their teachers and administrators, were gathered to celebrate the school exiting program improvement status, a massive achievement for the school which is the smallest in the district and has the highest percentage of the economically disadvantaged students.

Schools that fail to meet academic yearly progress are subject to corrective measures. Schools that fail to make proper progress for two years are put in program improvement until they are able to make sufficient progress. 

Noozhawk reported in 2013 that the school had met all of its state and federal targets that year. The state then gathered data for 2015, and found that El Camino met targets for participation and attendance, moving the school out of program improvement.

It's a significant feat to leave that status, considering the high bar set by federal guidelines, and only a handful of schools have been able to leave program improvement status in Santa Barbara County. 

Those little hands shooting up at the promise of college is a huge part of shift in thinking and the reason the school has seen such a seismic shift, said El Camino Principal Liz Barnitz.

“Every child is being asked to dream,” she said.

Academic goals as well as personal ones are key, and encouraging kids to adopt what Barnitz calls a “growth mindset.”

The school’s campus serves kindergarten through sixth grade, and also has a state-funded preschool and transitional kindergarten classes on its campus.

Eighty percent of the school’s students have been English Language Learners at one time during their tenure at the elementary school, and 80 percent are also considered to be in poverty.

“When you’re a child in poverty, there’s so much focus on what you can’t do,” Barnitz said. 

“We want them to say, ‘I can do it and I know how.’”

The school is part of the No Excuses University Institute network of schools, which “is based on the belief system that every child can succeed and it’s our job to make that happen,” she said.

Each of the school’s classes has adopted a college, and an open class door could be seen decorated in USC school colors last week.

The school has been using a computer-based program to look at where things are going well and where improvement is needed, Barnitz said.

“We’ve tied goals into everything,” she said.

The school has focused on basics like language skills as well adding hands-on science activities like engineering and enabling students to work with a 3D printer.

Getting kids to take ownership of their own learning and involving parents at a higher level has also been key, Barnitz said. 

She began as principal at El Camino in 2012 after previously working as principal of Ellwood School.

El Camino was in program improvement when she arrived and after one year of her being there, the school met its academic targets.

Everything was already in place to bring the school into success, she said, and the school’s teachers “are amazing” — the school just needed someone to bring a unifying vision.

“It was a complete team effort,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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