Port Rowan Public School, located on the shores of Lake Erie, spans junior kindergarten to Grade 8. It is the only public elementary school in the area, and its current population, which has been declining in recent years, now stands at 270 students. Farming and seasonal tourism provide the majority of jobs in this mixed-income area.
Active parental involvement greatly contributes to the feeling of inclusion among students at all grade levels. An example of support at Port Rowan is found in the Healthy Snack Program, which is organized and run by retirees and parent volunteers. This group also fundraises and arranges a monthly hot breakfast for the entire school. Local high school students come in and work with intermediate-division students on preparing and serving meals; this has created a leadership opportunity and helps the younger students transition to the next level of education.
The creativity and initiative of the teaching staff form the cornerstone of the spirit and success at Port Rowan. Principal Margaret Payne states: “The staff is the strength of this school. The principal can’t be the curriculum leader in isolation. Teachers take ideas, develop them as a team and run with them.” A variety of motivational activities are offered to bring the entire school population together and create a sense of belonging for all students. Through “Colour House Activities,” multi-age groups form houses and work together on specific tasks. This initiative is credited with essentially eradicating bullying at the school.
Port Rowan Public works hard to provide an inviting and effective learning environment for all students. EQAO results validate the excellence of their efforts. This school is consistently above their school board results in all subjects and above provincial results in reading and writing.
At Port Rowan, EQAO assessments are not viewed as a challenge, but rather as a useful tool that presents objective measures of The Ontario Curriculum. EQAO assessments are administered only to Grades 3 and 6 students, but the information that is provided affects all children at the school. Accordingly, the entire staff meets to analyze each report for strengths and weaknesses of student learning and to develop a plan of action. The accrued information is also shared with parents. Included in the academic data that is examined and shared are the students’ personal perceptions and what they like and dislike about school. It becomes the task of home and school to build self-confidence in the children and have them perceive the EQAO assessment as an important event.
The principal and staff members are proficient in utilizing information found on the EQAO Web site, including examples of work at the different levels, and do so daily. The children have become aware of where they stand relative to Level 3, and what they need to work on to approach and exceed the provincial expectation. With reference to this expectation, staff members extol the benefits of serving as EQAO scorers, seeing the experience as a unique and beneficial professional growth opportunity.
“Data is my friend, and my job as principal is to help teachers grow in their understanding. Data is a tremendous tool that allows us to see our effectiveness, and if there are gaps we can address them.”
Some of the more noteworthy strategies that have contributed to the successes at Port Rowan include an early intervention initiative called the Strong Start program. Delivered by trained volunteers, it consists of one-on-one assistance to kindergarten and Grade 1 students on game-based modules dealing with letter sounds and high-frequency words.
The Booster Club program is offered to Grades 3 and 6 students who are at Level 2. Educational assistants run this after-school program twice a week for an eight-week module. Students have the opportunity to develop improved problem-solving and reading responses and achieve a boost to Level 3.
In order to minimize confusion, students in all grade levels are consistently taught to use curriculum vocabulary in mathematics and literacy, and all available accommodations are offered to assist the students.
Mathematics is an area of concentration for this school, which is currently involved in several math programs. Schools in the Middle highlights a math learning cycle using if-then suppositions. Another initiative highlights teaching a problem-solving model and the use of appropriate math vocabulary to allow students to explain their rationale and justify their answers. A math alignment project uses graphs as a problem-solving model.
Port Rowan is indeed a busy place with high academic goals and expectations for all students; it is also a well-rounded school with teams, clubs, recreational activities and high morale. The success story at Port Rowan depicts an effective partnership among principal, teachers, educational assistants, parents and volunteers to program effectively for the students. They use the full spectrum of resources that EQAO makes available. Using accurate data has become the centrepiece in their exceptional assessment performance.
“Data is important,” states Principal Payne. “Early in my career I wasn’t aware of its importance. I am, however, a lifelong learner, and I am working to grow in my understanding . . . Data is my friend, and my job as principal is to help teachers grow in their understanding. Data is a tremendous tool that allows us to see our effectiveness, and if there are gaps we can address them.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient