In this Q & A, Traut Core Knowledge’s Principal Mark Wertheimer describes his school, which is among the top 10 elementary schools in Colorado this year.
Describe your school’s mission and illustrate it with an example from the classroom.
Our vision is educational excellence in knowledge, skills and character, with strong parent-teacher-student partnerships.
Our mission is to provide excellence and fairness in education for elementary school children. Excellence in education means raising academic standards and achieving success for all students. Fairness in education means providing equal opportunity to learn for all students. We accomplish this through our five pillars (see below).
Two projects undertaken by our second grade classrooms can help illustrate this mission in action. All second grade students memorize, illustrate, and recite the preamble to the Constitution. They then create a classroom constitution—one which embeds our character qualities within its verbiage. The students, principal, and classroom teacher all sign this document in a classroom ceremony.
Later in the year, all students research their family backgrounds. They then select one of their countries of origin and create a presentation on that country (as well as how their family came to the USA) which is performed in front of family and friends in our cafeteria.
What are one or two ways that the team at your school meets students’ academic needs?
We have over 60 staff hours per day allocated toward intervention needs. These interventions include providing differentiated instruction across ability levels, grade levels, and subject areas. We are continually fine-tuning these services, providing cross-training for our staff to be nimble enough to accommodate the needs of our population, whether it be for primary or intermediate grades, struggling or advanced students, or for math or language arts assistance.
These interventions, combined with the extensive expertise provided by our veteran classroom teachers, help us continue to our legacy as a school which continually performs at the very topmost levels in the state.
Nevertheless, as our motto states, we “Never Give Up” in our pursuit of the highest levels of academic excellence for all students.
Name one or two characteristics, programs, or other detail about your school that makes it a special place.
Probably the single most unique aspect of Traut Core Knowledge School is our Parent Partnership. Traut’s governance goes beyond traditional promotion of parental involvement, input, and volunteerism, allowing for both staff and parents to have direct say on decisions impacting the school. Parents and staff have an equal vote on the Site Based Management Council, with the principal being only one member on the staff side.
Another unique aspect of our school is our wide diversity of backgrounds. One of our character traits is “Appreciation of Individual Strengths and Cultural Backgrounds: Being considerate of others without compromising your own values.” This character trait serves us well as we work with over 21 home languages, over 25% non-white students, representation from all the world’s major religions, an ever-increasing free/reduced lunch program, over 11% English Language Learners, and more.
Over 75% of our staff were or are parents. This by-product of our Parent Partnership means we are “home” to many families—even beyond the time their children actually attend here. The biggest problem facing education (and society) today is the breakdown of the family. It takes a family to raise a child, and our “family” atmosphere helps us be part of the village that supports our families.
Aside from the Parent Partnership pillar already mentioned, no description of Traut would be complete without mentioning our other four pillars—all five supporting pillars being built upon the foundation of Choice. These pillars are Core Knowledge: a content-rich curriculum—not an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve an excellent grasp of information and the ability to use that information thoughtfully; Character Education: we have identified twelve character traits, rooted in respect and responsibility, which are integrated throughout the school day; Student Responsibility: as key partners at Traut Core Knowledge School, students will succeed as they recognize and accept their responsibility for their own learning; and Mature Literacy: beginning with systematic phonics instruction accompanied by plentiful opportunities to read meaningful text, which yields mature, competent readers.
What’s the most frequently asked question from parents visiting the school – and how do you respond to it?
Parents want to know that their child is safe. We are careful to make sure that everyone who enters the building is visually acknowledged by a responsible adult. We have resources in place to assure adequate supervision is in place for hallways, lunchroom, recesses, and carpools. We also have a database which assists us in making sure we know where all students are at all times, including when they attending before and after school events and field trips.
Secondly, parents want to know that their child is “known” and cared for by the staff. We take special care to make sure all children connect with their teachers, tutors, and other staff. We foster positive relationships, as these are vital to the success of children.
Last but not least, we provide an incredible richness of academic opportunity for all students, which has been shown to be highly effective in seeing academic achievement across the board, no matter what the measure, every year since we began in 1992.