Ithaca City School District’s Northeast Elementary received the New York State Education Department High Performance Reward School designation last month for its academic achievements from 2011 to 2013.
The designation goes to New York schools within the top 20th percentile of academic achievement in the state, as well as to those schools in the top 10th percentile of progress in English language arts (ELA) and math. In addition to requiring high academic achievement, it also requires that students at these schools are making faster academic progress than the state average. Northeast is the second ICSD school in three years to receive the designation.
This year, 354 schools out of more than 4600 throughout the state received the designation. Northeast principal Jeff Tomasik said the school’s success comes largely from the cooperation between students, staff, and families, and he was glad that there is now recognition for that.
“We have an awesome staff, great families, great kids that all work really well together,” Tomasik said. “Our teachers are really talented and committed to success of all kids, the parents and families as a whole are very supportive of the school, and the students are very curious, very hard working. We all work really hard to make it a fun place but also a place for kids to achieve at a really high level.”
Melissa Tesoriero, who recently won an award from the Ithaca City School District for her 25 years of service teaching at Northeast, said the staff and faculty are very dedicated to getting students on the same page academically. It is not uncommon to see teachers staying late after school, and Tomasik is very supportive of the teachers’ plans.
“There’s a lot of pressure on teachers right now with Common Core and the New York State standards, and Jeff works with us and trusts us enough to let us keep moving forward,” Tesoriero said. “There are three [third grade] teachers and we meet every day and talk so that every child that’s in third grade really is receiving the same instruction along the same page.”
Tesoriero also noted the need to adapt to teaching models that better serve students’ needs. While she knows what she wants her students to get out of each lesson, she also recognizes that guiding rather than lecturing and small group works allows them to learn from each other as well as from her, and she can also learn from them.
“Direct instruction, where the teacher is standing in front of the classroom, is kind of a thing of the past,” she said. “We have to realize that different kids learn in so many different ways, and we have to try and come up with as many of those ways as we can so that all kids are successful.”
The Reward School designation came just three years after Northeast was named a Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education, recognizing the school’s high levels of achievement on the national level. Tomasik was invited to a conference in Washington, DC to network with other Blue Ribbon School administrators and learn about their programming.
Northeast shares the designation of Reward School with fellow ICSD school Belle Sherman Elementary, which received it in 2012. Belle Sherman principal Dan Breiman also emphasized the balance of achievement and enjoyment that were recognized by this award.
“Our students have demonstrated what it means to not only excel in the classroom but to have fun while doing so,” Breiman said.
Part of the Reward Schools’ responsibility is to reduce the achievement gap between students of different “accountability measures” such as income level. Belle Sherman Parent Teacher Association treasurer and parent Leia Raphaelidis said the administration at Belle Sherman continues to work to narrow these gaps, not only in terms of testing but also with technology and book access and academic assistance as a whole.
“Whether a student’s parents are both PhDs at Cornell or newly arrived refugees with limited English, there is universal commitment to help each kid succeed,” she said.
Neither designation came with a budgetary incentive, but Tomasik said it is incentive to continue their “standard of excellence” through their current programming as well as good recognition for the school’s work .
“It’s nice to start the year with positive momentum and positive energy,” he said.