Pueblo School of Arts and Sciences a Model for Closing the Achievement Gap

At Pueblo School for Arts and Sciences (PSAS), a K-8 public charter school operated through Colorado State University-Pueblo, educating children is about so much more than passing state tests—though their students do so with flying colors.

For PSAS, education is about creating a community of life-long learners and a commitment to ensuring the success of all students. This philosophy informs PSAS’s vision to be an “exemplary educational community which teaches skills and provides opportunities, inspiring respectful, creative, competent, productive life-long learners.”

In a decade where our educational system has emphasized testing and basic reading and math skills, PSAS is committed to doing more through use of the Paideia philosophy, implementation of the Success for All and Reading Edge programs, excellent teachers, and an emphasis on parental involvement. And, their data shows that their commitment to the development of the whole child is paying off.

With 67 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, PSAS has overcome obstacles to raise achievement scores and close the achievement gap. PSAS scores have been on the rise over the past years. Third grade reading scores jumped from 75 percent in 2007 to 85 percent in 2008, fifth-grade scores went from 63 percent to 72 percent, and eighth-grade scores increased from 65 percent to 73 percent.

A recent report, “Profiles of Success: Eight Colorado Schools that are Closing the Achievement Gap,” prepared by the Donnell-Kay and Piton Foundations in Collaboration with the Colorado Department of Education, highlighted PSAS’s success in closing the income achievement gap.
PSAS’s ability to close the achievement gap stems from their philosophy that “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” PSAS refuses to make excuses, seeing the potential in all of their students, regardless of their background, and delivering the best and most challenging education to every student they serve.

In addition to embracing this philosophy, PSAS has implemented strategies for ensuring the highest levels of student achievement in all areas. Foremost of these is the school-wide use of the Paideia philosophy, which emphasizes teaching via seminars that integrate the arts, foreign language, and humanities with core academic subjects to expand critical thinking. While this strategy is often reserved for gifted students at other schools, at PSAS, all students participate in the Paideia model to strengthen their inquiry skills, ability to connect disciplines, and desire to learn. And, students are actively involved in community service throughout the year, taking their learning beyond the classroom walls.

“The Paideia Philosophy provides our students instruction in critical thinking with an emphasis on students becoming engaged in appreciating their own learning. Students are exposed to many opportunities of extended learning through Paideia projects, which are a culmination of integrated curricula that could span two weeks to a full semester,” says Natalie Allen, PSAS’s Paideia Facilitator.

PSAS also focuses on development of concrete literacy skills through implementation of the Success for All and Reading Edge comprehensive elementary and adolescent reading programs, both developed by the Success for All Foundation. Through implementation of Success for All and the Reading Edge, PSAS has established a reading block when the entire school community is involved in reading and when students are taught at their reading level to ensure that they are developing the key reading skills required for success in all subjects.

“Success For All’s components of KinderRoots, Roots, Wings and Edge have provided us the tools needed to have a comprehensive and vertically aligned reading curriculum. Our students’ literacy experience includes the instruction of specific strategies and skills. The students then have the building blocks to understand, evaluate, and reflect on a variety of literature which demonstrates their critical thinking and their own learning,” explains Lisa Gagliardi, the Success for All Facilitator at PSAS.

Success for All Foundation coaches help PSAS support implementation of each program, providing on-site training and support and focusing PSAS administrators and teachers on the use of data to drive instructional decisions.

These instructional programs would not be a success without the teachers at PSAS or their commitment to involving families in the learning community. The PSAS profile in “Profiles of Success” notes that teachers there “describe themselves as ‘maverick’ and describe PSAS as a ‘school of leaders.’”

“Our teachers get to know our students on a relational level creating a safe community of learners. Every student feels comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas, which allows the student to experience knowledge through their personal learning style. Teachers reflect and consistently provide differentiated learning and place focus on the whole child,” says Principal Cheryl Gomez about her staff.

Parents are engaged in the school community at PSAS, where they have a defined role in decision making. Daily parent tips and resources on the PSAS website and English language classes for parents after school ensure that parents have the tools they need to be an integral part of their children’s education.

The integration of all these strategies has led to success for the PSAS community both through concrete data and the excitement about learning experienced by the school community on a daily basis. The accomplishments of PSAS prove that success on state tests and other data measures and the development of the whole child as a lifelong learner can go hand in hand.

School Contacts:

Cheryl Gomez, Principal

Lisa Gagliardi, SFA Facilitator

Colorado State University - Pueblo is a regional, comprehensive university emphasizing professional, career-oriented, and applied programs. Displaying excellence in teaching, celebrating diversity, and engaging in service and outreach, CSU-Pueblo is distinguished by access, opportunity, and the overall quality of services provided to its students.