ESEA 2020

First district in Missouri to win both national ESEA awards
Posted on 03/02/2021
Lake Road faculty, under the leadership of Rondi Vaughn, are honored by the district.

Two Poplar Bluff elementaries have been named 2020 National ESEA Distinguished Schools, the first time in the 25-year history of the program that each of Missouri’s designees were a part of the same school system, a state official has confirmed.

Eugene Field earned the award for closing the achievement gap between student groups, while Lake Road was named for its exceptional student performance and academic growth for two consecutive years, during the annual National ESEA Conference held virtually Monday through Thursday, Feb. 8-11.

“All of our students are obviously important, but the federal title programs were established to address disparities of educational opportunities – level the playing field – within the student population, and this demonstrates that we are achieving that goal at the highest level,” said Dr. Scott Dill, R-I superintendent. “The fact that there are only two [local education agencies] awarded in the state, and both have gone to the Poplar Bluff School District, is a tremendous recognition of the collaborative teaching and learning taking place throughout our school system.”

This is the fourth consecutive year an R-I school has received the national recognition—originally known as Title 1—with Oak Grove having been honored in 2017 and 2019 respectively, and Lake Road previously holding the distinction in 2018. The award is reserved for qualifying LEAs that have most successfully utilized funding through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to improve the education for all students, especially those living under economically disadvantaged conditions.

Lake Road scored a 78.4 percent cumulative total for super subgroups over the last two years of Missouri Assessment Program test data, according to Amanda Cash of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and scored 77.1 percent proficient and advanced in English language arts in 2019 and 82.3 in mathematics. Meanwhile Eugene Field had a 34.4 percent cumulative increase from 2018, scoring 88.57 proficient and advanced in ELA the following year, and 80 percent in math.

Eugene Field was named Southeast Missouri’s first Lighthouse School under The Leader in Me program in 2016, and has maintained the prestigious status each renewal cycle since. But while the initiative has been transformative in terms of character development, Principal Jennifer Taylor said she believes training through the Regional Professional Development Center under Missouri Model Districts is what provided the structure needed to establish the instructional strategies to help students reach their true academic potential.

“Eugene Field previously had the reputation of setting low expectations and making excuses for underperformance,” Taylor candidly stated in her ESEA profile, later noting that staff now exemplifies the building philosophy, ‘change starts with me.’ She continued: “Years of professional development and administrative support have solidified staff efficacy, trust, empathy and collaboration throughout our school community.”

In 2018, Lake Road was named the district’s first National Blue Ribbon School, the highest honor an educational institution in America can achieve. For all of the school’s accolades, Principal Rondi Vaughn credits Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, a system of reinforcements under which Lake Road has achieved gold-level implementation over the past four school years, as well as Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a district-wide cultural initiative under which the elementary has consistently been named a national showcase school.

“PBIS and Capturing Kids’ Hearts provides us the strategies to meet the needs of our students, and it’s not just academically, but sometimes behaviorally, in order to reach the whole child and truly be effective in getting kids to own their learning, which is so much more meaningful,” Vaughn said. She wrote in her school summary on the ESEA network website: “Data is a part of our everyday conversations.”

Perhaps above all, both schools attribute their success to the Professional Learning Community process, a continuous cycle of self-improvement across campus. “These awards speak directly to the core of what I value in public education – that collaboration and cooperation between educators is the only way to do this business,” Dill pointed out. “The work is too important to do in isolation.”


Cutline: Lake Road faculty, under the leadership of Rondi Vaughn, are honored by the district on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Westwood Center for being named a 2020 National ESEA Distinguished School.

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