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Focus on the individual student will lead to success, says principal
Cunningham pic2
Trenten Wright, 5 th grade student at Cunningham, sheds a tear as he asks school district trustees to not relocate his teacher at a public meeting held in May about the changes being made at the school. - photo by Journal file photo

Focusing on each individual student and working together as a team are two of the strategies that Principal Al Silveira has implemented to help turn around the learning environment at Cunningham Elementary School.

“I don’t have a program or a bag to pull things out of and say ‘we will do this, this and this,’” Silveira said. “It’s not anything you pull out of a bag. It’s something that has been successful for years — people working together and focusing on the needs of the school and individual students.”

The school’s new focus isn’t the only thing that has changed at Cunningham. Staff, teachers and students started off the 2010/2011 school year with some other big changes — a new principal and a few new teachers. These changes fall under the new implemented turnaround model for the school.   

The Turlock Unified School District implemented the turnaround model on May 3 after presenting the model and new ideas to Cunningham staff, said Lacrisha Ferriera, TUSD assistant superintendent for educational services.

The turnaround model at Cunningham is one of four methods implemented at the state level for schools that are in the bottom five percent in the state. The model requires districts to replace the current principal, rehire no more than 50 percent of staff and select new staff.

TUSD is voluntarily implementing the turnaround model, therefore, they are not forced to strictly follow the model but they can use it as a guideline for improvement, Ferriera said. A new principal is in place and eight teachers have been relocated — one resigned and two volunteered to relocate — but no teachers were terminated. Some changes at the site level have already started to take root. The formation of a Strategic Plan Team compiled of teachers, classified staff and community members has already started to form after a month of school has been in session, Silveira said. The team will meet at the end of the month to start putting together some strategies to turn around the school. The new focus on individual students is what has become the major push behind making the turnaround method a success, he said. Cunningham’s staff and teachers have been analyzing data on their school not by grades, classrooms or teachers, but by individual students. “It is more work but it is exciting,” Silveira said. “It is a process that I have found to have much success.” Silveira is also hoping to put together more time for teacher collaboration to work together for the betterment of the children, he said. One of the more concrete changes for the school so far is the updated look where Silveira hopes to instill some school pride to jumpstart a new beginning for the students and staff.

“We are starting to evolve into campus pride and we are moving forward,” Silveira said.

A new paved parking lot, gates for student safety, fresh paint in the cafeteria and some new flowers are all working together to bring positive reinforcements onto campus to help move toward a better school.

The new changes spearheaded by the turnaround model come after five years of little or no improvement in Cunningham test scores overall.

The school is in its fifth year as a program improvement school, Ferreira said. Cunningham is one of the lowest-achieving schools in the district, along with Osborn Elementary and Wakefield Elementary. 

Even with the new 2010 California Standardized Testing results revealed in August, Cunningham was one of two schools who made little or no improvement.

“One of the things we realized is that we needed to do things differently,” said Frank Lima, TUSD Board of Trustees president. “We have to find ways to do things differently. How can we expect change when we are doing the same thing we have always done?”More changes will be seen at Cunningham in the near future, but all working toward student achievement, student comportment and parent participation, Silveira said.

“We are heading in a very positive direction and we are having fun while doing it,” he said.

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.