SNOWBIRD — Westside Elementary in Springville has captured the 2005 exemplary reading program award for the state of Utah but not without considerable effort from a principal who walked the plank to reward students who read and read.
At the annual conference of the Utah Council of the International Reading Association recently, Principal Susan Huff accepted the award and said she was backed by a school staff that has overcome major poverty and language challenges to earn it.
Westside has the most students of poverty level in Nebo School District (based on the number of free and reduced price lunches it provides). It also has the greatest number of preschool through fifth-grade students in the district who are learning English as a second language.
Six years ago the school made literacy the focus. What once was a limited library is now a library that rivals any in the state. Teachers now collaborate, rather than work in isolation. Formerly, Westside had no site-based professional development staff, but it now has a district reading recovery trainer, a full-time staff developer, and a part-time literacy specialist. Huff is in her seventh year as principal.
Because Westside has the highest poverty numbers in the district, it also has the highest expectation of accountability under the federal "No Child Left Behind" rules, Huff said, and receives Title I grants to support its programs. If the school fails to live up to its charge, it can be sanctioned. Instead, the school came out on top in Utah with its reading program.
Huff next goes to Chicago when Westside represents Utah competing internationally at the annual International Reading Association convention in May.
While most of the 708 Westside students are white, 20 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent American Indian, and one percent each are black, Polynesian and Asian. Westside Elementary was built five years ago for 750 students.
Teachers offer a variety of reading incentives to reach this varied student body, Huff said. Sometimes the rewards are a bit unusual. Two years ago, when students reached their reading goal under the theme "Treasure Seekers," Huff walked the plank at a local swimming pool.
This year she's looking forward to enjoying banana pie — the hard way. Each child must complete 80 percent of the class reading goal, then one student selected from each class will get to throw a banana pie at her. The theme this year is "Go Bananas Over Books," coupled with the national theme based on the upcoming "Curious George" movie due out in the spring, she said.
"I'm not sure how this is going to work out," she said, contemplating students hurling banana pies at her.
Westside also won the Reading Program of the Year for the Nebo Reading Council. Huff was selected as the Reading Principal of the Year last year, while Suzanne Kimball of Springville Middle School received that honor this year. The council selected LuAnn Staheli, an English teacher at Payson Junior High School, as Reading Teacher of the Year for 2005.