By Mike Myslinski
Dean Vogel, Nelda McCone with Zamboni Middle School students
You can hear the pride and accomplishment in sixth-grade teacher Nelda McCone’s voice when she talks about her 922-student Zamboni Middle School in Los Angeles County earning a prestigious state “School to Watch” award.
The high-poverty school in Paramount Unified School District is one of hundreds receiving extra funding from the CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006 for proven improvements like smaller class sizes, better training and more time for vital collaboration. McCone is Zamboni’s QEIA liaison with CTA, making sure the goals of the landmark law are being met. She feels the new award is a vindication of the turnaround program’s potential.
“We are excited by our success,” McCone says. “We have made a lot of growth over the years. And we really are fortunate to have had QEIA funding, especially to keep our class sizes small.”
In January, Zamboni was one of only 12 new California middle schools named by the California Department of Education as model schools in the state’s “Schools to Watch — Taking Center Stage” program. The state partners with the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform and the California Middle Grades Alliance on the program.
These model schools demonstrate academic excellence, responsiveness to students’ needs, social equity and other progress. Visitors from around the world come to these schools looking for the secrets of success that they can replicate.
McCone joined CTA President Dean E. Vogel and district officials to celebrate the award at Zamboni. “With the help of QEIA resources and the dedication of these teachers, Zamboni students are getting a chance at a brighter future,” Vogel says. “While this new state award is a vindication of our goals for QEIA, it’s also indicative of the good work being done by all Paramount Unified educators. Your dedication inspires me.”
QEIA promotes team effort
Zamboni educators praise the support they get from Principal Elizabeth Salcido, whose commitment to students, parents and educators is key to making QEIA reforms succeed.
The student demographics at Zamboni are typical for a QEIA school.
The California Department of Education praised Zamboni educators for focusing “on poverty issues facing their students as part of their concern for the whole child.” This year, 96 percent of Zamboni students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. Ninety-one percent are Hispanic.
The state singled out the school’s Academic Performance Index (API) growth. Zamboni had an API score of 807 last year — above the state’s goal of 800 — and was scoring in the 600s in 2006 before receiving QEIA funding support. Students who are English learners scored 789 last year, a 27-point gain.
While cuts have increased class sizes in the Paramount district, Zamboni class sizes remain mercifully manageable, thanks to QEIA. The law requires the state to annually invest an additional $900 per student in grades 4-8 at a QEIA school, for example, and typically requires a class size average of 25 in middle schools.
McCone says her sixth-grade classes contain 23 students or fewer, which allows her to spend more time with kids who need more attention, and to contact parents to partner with them.
Smaller class sizes are one of the most cherished aspects of QEIA, McCone says, along with ongoing freedom to collaborate with colleagues.
“We create student assessments together. We create lessons together. The collaboration is probably one of the key components of our success.”
See California’s 12 newly named “Schools to Watch” middle schools at www.cta.org/schoolstowatch. The model schools were honored by the California Middle Grades Alliance and at the California League of Middle Schools Conference.