Wahitis still school of distinction

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Bob Kirkpatrick/Columbia Basin Herald Wahitis Elementary School fifth-grader Jaidalyn Low speaks during the award ceremony Tuesday to mark Wahitis’ designation as a ‘School of Distinction’ for the second year in a row.

OTHELLO — For the second year in a row, Wahitis Elementary School has been named a “School of Distinction” by the Olympia-based Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE).

For elementary schools, the award recognizes sustained increased in reading and math scores over the previous five years.

“We’re continuing to climb, continuing to grow, and we’re proud of the accomplishments of our students,” said Superintendent Chris Hurst at the awards presentation Tuesday night.

To keep growing, Hurst said, requires a vision, teamwork, and constant communication between teachers, staff, and students.

“It’s one thing to do this once. This is about leadership, teachers, staff, and students,” Hurst said. “This is not by chance.”

According to the CEE, in 2013, Wahitis Elementary School placed very close to the bottom in statewide rankings at 8.1 percent. In the last five years, Wahitis’ test scores have risen substantially, and the center now scores Wahitis at 36.4 percent — still well below the state-wide average but a significant improvement.

Wahitis is also the best performing elementary school in the Othello district, according to CEE figures.

Justin Johnson, a former Wahitis principal and the current director of data and innovation for the Othello School District, attributed the improvement in Wahitis scores to a complete redesign of how the school taught in 2014.

“Anything that could change, did,” Johnson said. “In 2014-2015 (school year), it felt like we were brand new teachers again.”

Teacher Hannah Mohs agreed that the shake up was essential to setting Wahitis Elementary on the path of improvement.

“We can teach all students whose learning is of interest to us,” she said. “All students deserve a first class education.”

School Board Vice President Tony Ashton said he is encouraged by the progress Wahitis has made.

“Our goal is that Othello becomes a place where people want to teach, where teachers can be successful. If teachers can be successful, students can be successful,” he said.

After the recognition ceremony, Hurst told the Columbia Basin Herald that the district plans to take what has been successful at Wahitis and implement them at the district’s three other elementary schools.

“Just watch what we’re going to do,” he said.

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