BILL Metz Elementary School was recently recognized with the Governor’s Bright Spot Award, which is a special recognition for schools that have demonstrated strong growth in student achievement since 2019.
Of the 21 schools that received the award, Monte Vista’s Bill Metz Elementary was the only school in the San Luis Valley to earn the distinction.
Each of the schools recognized will receive $50,000 through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds. The money can be used toward investments that support student resources, faculty development and other opportunities that will benefit students’ learning experiences, according to the governor’s office.
“Congratulations to these schools that have shown strong improvements in results despite the pandemic, and to all those that worked to advance students’ learning over the last three years,” said Gov. Jared Polis in announcing the awards.
The Citizen visited this week with Bill Metz Elementary School Principal Gabe Futrell about the award. Futrell is in his 12th year as principal, with 275 students at the elementary school. (This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.)
Alamosa Citizen: How do you plan to use the $50,000 in GEER funds that comes with the Governor’s Bright Spot Award?
Principal Gabe Futrell: One of the things that we’re still struggling with post-COVID is attendance. So one of the ways we’re going to use it is to help pay for our attendance program, meaning that we have a person that runs the whole program, as far as making sure parents are aware of what the processes are and as far as how we’re following the state law with attendance policies and things, and then just trying to be partners with parents. If there’s any problems that we can help with to solve those attendance problems, then helping them with that. So, to help pay the salary of that person is one of the big ways that we’re going to use it.
The other thing, it came at a good time, technology goes out of date quickly and that’s one of the allowable funds. So all of our kids have Chromebooks. They don’t take them home at the elementary level, but they use them all day throughout the day here, whether it’s for instruction or whether it’s for assessing and different things. So all of our Chromebooks from kindergarten through third grade are going to be out of date at the end of this year. So when we did the math, that’s about $60,000 to replace all those Chromebooks. So it won’t cover everything, but it’ll help us in that area get some additional Chromebooks for the following year as well.
The Citizen: The award recognizes strong growth in student achievement since 2019. What’s the secret sauce at Bill Metz Elementary?
Principal Futrell: I don’t know that there’s a secret sauce, but I would say, even though, talking to colleagues from around the state, a lot of people just tried to survive through the pandemic, do whatever they could, and to an extent we did that as well, but we never stopped pushing toward the academic growth either, with kids. So our teachers were learning throughout that time, not only how to do online teaching. … The longest part we were ever online was a week and a half during COVID as a district.
We had some classrooms quarantined for a week or two here and there, but we really just continued to push toward the academic excellence that, even though we always put the whole child first, the relationships, that’s the foundation here for sure, but it’s not everything. It’s just a foundation and then we build upon that to really get the most out of every kiddo that we can.
Our vision is achieving academic excellence, one student at a time. So that’s really how we do it, is trying to make sure that we’re meeting every student’s needs, even though every student’s needs are obviously different.
THE Citizen: How do you measure student achievement at the elementary school level?
Principal Futrell: So at the state level, the way they’re looking at this award and the way they look at what’s called the school performance framework is through the state test. So that’s our third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders that take the state test. They do that for English, Language Arts and Math, and our fifth-graders also take Science.
So that’s how the award was decided, based upon how schools did across the state on those, but at the local level we also look at several other assessments. We take what’s called the NWEA three times a year and that measures those same subjects, but rather than waiting until the … The state test is kind of like the autopsy, I guess you would call it. After the fact, and you don’t get the results until way later. But the NWEA results we get the next day and so we can start to do things right away with those results. And we also use a couple other assessments. Istation and i-Ready to dig into how students are reading, how students are doing math and the processes with those two.
The Citizen: What’s the most important thing to remember when working with elementary school students?
Principal Futrell: Well, going back to what I said was the foundation, the most important thing is the relationships that you have with kids. And for me, as the principal, it’s not just the kids, but also the staff, the parents. Obviously for the teachers, it’s not only the kids but also their parents. And these last couple years, it’s been very important to have good communication with parents because when they are stuck at home because of a quarantine or something like that, then it was up to the parents to be able to still keep that education going. And so I definitely give a lot of credit to our parents as well for all their work during these two or three years that they had to do way more than normal because of what was going on in the world.
The Citizen: What’s the most fun thing about your job?
Principal Futrell: Definitely the kids. There’s lots of fun moments every day. Every day is different. Lots of laughs with the kids. But yeah, just definitely the kids.