Longmont's Burlington Elementary lauded for hosting site visits for low-achieving schools

Longmont's Burlington Elementary spent the last two school years hosting low-achieving schools to help them replicate Burlington's practices.

The state Department of Education recently recognized Burlington and four other Colorado "High Achiever" schools. To date, the five schools have hosted site visits for 28 low-achieving schools.

"The goal was to really target what makes Burlington successful and see how we could transition that into different school settings," said Burlington Principal Kerin McClure, who took over last fall after longtime principal Janis Hughes retired.

Burlington was chosen because the school is high achieving overall and with different groups of students — minority, low income, special education and second language. About half the school's 450 students qualify for free or reduced lunches, while the school's demographics are similar to those of Longmont.

The St. Vrain Valley school also works successfully with both gifted students and those who receive special education services, officials said.

In 2014, a state team visited Burlington to observe classes and talk to teachers, parents and students about what makes the school effective.

The team identified five exemplary practices at Burlington: relationships and establishing trust, collaboration, community and family partners, behavior management and honoring student strengths and challenges.

The findings were published by the Colorado Department of Education and made available to schools.

"It brings home that family feeling we have at our school that makes us stand out from other schools," McClure said.

She said school staff members make it a priority to really get to know students and work with them on an individual level. About half of the school's students are from low-income families.

The school also is "very intentional" about giving teachers time to collaborate. Grade-level teams meet once every seven days with a focus on student data.

"There's a lot of conversation," McClure said.

Another priority is engaging students, she said. The school recently added robotics for all students and is adding more design thinking.

With money to upgrade its library, for example, the school asked all of its students to participate in a design challenge around how they want the new library to look. Teachers had their own design challenge, while parents gave feedback through a survey.

To encourage parent involvement, the school asks all parents to volunteer at least three hours a year.

While the study and mentoring other schools is over, McClure said, Burlington still plans to continue its relationships with those schools.

"It's really invigorating for us to talk to teachers and administrators from other buildings," she said.

The school also is continuing to build on its successful practices. For the fall, for example, the school is looking at how technology can allow parents to "be at school without actually being at school."

"We really want to take it to that next level," she said.


Burlington Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Lisa Rovnak talks with Orion Reader, left, and Cole Evenson during a poetry reading group in class in 2015. (Matthew Jonas / Times-Call Staff Photographer)