Shaw School 'distinguished'
The Arizona Republic
9, 2005

1 of 36 in U.S. to get Title I rank
Mel Meléndez
Principal Shirley Johnson ends her daily morning announcement to Augustus Shaw School students with a bilingual nod reiterating their worth: "Cada estudiante es muy importante, inteligente y especial. Every student is very important, intelligent and special."

Judging by the Phoenix school's recent ranking as Arizona's 2005 Distinguished Title I School, it's a message the inner-city pupils are taking to heart. Only 36 schools nationwide earned the award, which requires academic gains over several years, including spikes in Measure of Academic Progress test scores and in state assessments, such as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test.

Only 10 of Arizona's nearly 1,100 Title I schools made the cut to apply for the award because of the state's rigorous criteria. Shaw is the first Phoenix Elementary School District campus to earn the honor.

School officials credit implementation of research-based reading and math programs, mandatory tutoring, better alignment to state standards, parent-teacher partnerships and outreach to businesses for pupils' progress.

For the 585-pupil school, where 99 percent of the students are minorities - many of them poor and/or English-language learners - the award screams "validation." It's especially welcome in a state that ranks at the bottom when it comes to minority student achievement, district officials said. For example, Arizona's Latino dropout rate is more than double the national rate, estimated at about 15 percent.

"Shaw proves that minority children can learn when there is focus in the classroom and good leadership," said Phoenix Elementary's Superintendent René X. Díaz, alluding to Shaw's Johnson.

Much has changed since Johnson arrived at the school a decade ago, to find students barely speaking English.

"I'm a fan of bilingual-ed programs that work. I think they're wonderful," Johnson said. "But Shaw basically had a monolingual Spanish program, which left the kids at a disadvantage. I made a conscious effort to correct that."

Raising the achievement bar for disadvantaged students is the basis for Title I, which at $12.3 billion, is the largest federal-aid program in K-12 education. It annually pours more than $221 million into Arizona schools. Phoenix Elementary schools receive about $7.1 million each year.

At Shaw, the funds help pay for "Success for All," an innovative reading program where pupils start the day with a nearly two-hour reading block and read for 20 minutes daily at home. Parents or teachers sign off on the after-school reading assignments.

A glance inside Shaw classrooms during first period finds pupils engaged in lively readings of Do Stars Have Points? which retells man's first trip into space, to the traditional Tortoise and the Hare tale.

"What's a moral?" asks teacher Paula Seeley of her multilevel reading group.

"Something that teaches you a good lesson," responds third-grader Edith Balderas, eliciting a thumbs-up from her classmates.

Soon they're huddled in groups of two, a cooperative teaching approach that bolsters reading fluency.

Shaw's pupils are grouped by reading level, regardless of their actual grade standings. They're tested every two months and reassigned according to their progress, said Mary Ellen Phillip, Shaw's language arts facilitator.

"It's a very effective approach because in every (traditional) classroom, there are kids that are advanced or struggling, and grouping them by levels works to their strengths and challenges them," she said.

Shaw's parents hail the school's multifaceted approach to teaching.

"I'm so glad my kids come here because they think of innovative ways of keeping them engaged," said Yesenia Quintanilla, a school volunteer whose sons Angel and Gerardo attend Shaw. "Isn't that what learning is all about?"

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8212.