At Clifton Elementary, Low Income Didn’t Mean Low Achievement

When your elementary school is in a town where 81% of the people live below the poverty line, a poor education may seem to follow right in line. That was the belief at Clifton Elementary, a school that had been ranked among the lowest performing in the state of Colorado.

It was either, turn the school around or “we’re closing it down.” When Michelle Mansheim arrived at Clifton as Principal, she found teachers who were happy just keeping the kids happy. They taught lessons as best they could and worked to keep the peace. There was no real awareness of how the school or the students were performing. The culture was mired in the belief that poor kids couldn’t learn. This had to change.

Michelle did her research and narrowed the field to two well-known school transformation contenders. She and her staff made calls, checked references and validated claims. Evans Newton came out on top. “The difference was we really needed experienced people with a proven process who cared enough to guide us, teach us and tough out this process,” said Michelle. “We didn’t want them to do the work, we wanted a partner who would teach and train us to do it ourselves.”

When the implementation began, “job one” was to gain buy-in from all the stakeholders in the school. The process was straightforward. The Clifton–Evans Newton Transformation Team set out to learn how far along the students were academically through interim assessments. With the results in, they set a three-year goal for performance. Next came a review of their current teaching tools. That’s when they discovered gaps—the curriculum wasn’t measuring up to the state’s education standards.

In the meantime, Evans Newton educators worked with the teachers to improve their knowledge, skills and comfort. They built relationships and the teaching staff began to see themselves in a whole new light. They became more engaged in their classrooms; some became coaches and mentored other teachers. The process went on for a year with teachers achieving greater levels of success. Students were bursting with renewed self esteem. Clifton Elementary was like a different place. A culture that once believed its impoverished students couldn’t learn, now believed there was nothing they couldn’t learn! And the test scores proved it. Just one year into the process, the school had achieved its three-year goal of meeting or exceeding state standards.

Now Clifton is expanding the program into other grades and other subjects. Evans Newton has proven its value. Michelle said, “We are so thankful for our partnership with Evans Newton. I don’t know what we would have done without them. Our teachers are happy and we are now a shining example of how change can happen. Our kids are all-stars. This has easily been the most powerful and rewarding experience of my career.”