Distinguished Improvement Award

Distinguished Improvement Award!
Posted on 01/11/2019
Highland Elementary Principal Rich Hills assists with a fifth-grade math problem this week.

Highland students and staff earned the distinction of becoming one of 105 Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Award winners across the state last year.


The Governor’s Distinguished Improvement Awards are given by the Colorado Department of Education to schools that demonstrate exceptional student growth. These schools “exceed” expectations on the indicator related to longitudinal academic growth and “meet or exceed” expectations on the indicator related to academic growth gaps on the school performance framework that is used by the state to evaluate schools.


The state average for student growth is 50 percent, and Highland Elementary students showed a 70.5 percent median growth percentile rate in English Language Arts and a 79 percent median growth percentile rate in math. Highland Elementary Assistant Principal Lancie Elder said the great growth gains of Highland Elementary students come down to focused educators and great systems.


“This is a journey that has been happening for many years,” said Elder who began at Highland Elementary as a teacher, became the academic coach, and is now the assistant principal. “This is not an overnight success story. We have a special group of teachers and support staff that truly believe in each and every one of our students. We have been very focused on interventions and filling the specific gaps our students have in order to be on grade level.” Elder added that the overall student growth is great, but the best part is that every measurable sub-group, English language learners, low-income students, and minority students, all grew at the same rate.


“To have every sub-group have amazing growth — that speaks to our strategic systems. We are striving to sustain good growth year after year and we know that comes from having good systems in place,” she added.


Principal Rich Hills, now in his sixth year at the helm of Highland Elementary, added that the truly special part of the announcement came from former HES Principal Alan Dillon. Now the associate commissioner of School Quality and Support with the Colorado Department of Education, Dillon delivered the news via telephone to the Highland leadership team.


“All of this started, in my mind, when Alan arrived at Highland,” Hills added. “It made it even more special to have him deliver the news. I am really happy for our staff and our future leaders that have been working so hard. It’s nice to see that reflected in this recognition. We know that there has always been quality work going on here at Highland. We just keep refining and improving the systems.”


Hills and Elder have helped build a culture of strong belief that every student is a leader and can achieve great things; that every classroom teacher is a reading teacher and a leader of leaders, and that a deep dive into student data supports teachers and students alike. Interventions are daily, targeted, and progress monitored. Student data is a part of daily conversation with coaches, as teams, and as a school.


With the addition of fifth grade, Highland Elementary will have two years of growth data as part of their school performance framework next year. Hills is convinced that the systems in place will support Mustang educators and future leaders for years to come.


“We are teaching the whole child at Highland Elementary School — social, emotional and academic needs,” said Hills. “It doesn’t matter if you are at recess playing a game, music working on a performance, or in the classroom solving math problems — we support our future leaders so they can stay positive and give their best effort in everything they do.”

Theresa Hamilton is director of communictionsforthe Garfield Re-2 School District, serving the communities of Rifle, Silt and New Castle.