DALLAS TWP. — Wycallis Elementary School Principal Paul Reinert was utterly unabashed in admitting it, so much so that he demonstrated how he had celebrated after learning Wycallis was named a national Blue Ribbon School — the first school in Luzerne County to earn the distinction in the 31 years the program has existed.
“I put my arms out and ran down the hall screaming like this,” Reinert said Thursday, spreading his wings and running while tilting to each side screaming.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that 235 public schools and 50 private ones nationwide received the designation, intended to recognize schools in one of two categories: high academic achievement or big improvements in academic achievement. Wycallis was honored as a high achiever.
Dallas School Board Superintendent Frank Galicki said getting a school on the list “has been a goal of ours for about 10 years,” and that it was a group effort. “It’s a cliche but it really is everybody that makes this happen.”
Reinert praised his predecessor, retired principal Kathleen McCarthy, for “laying the groundwork” and the staff, from reading specialists to custodians. “We have a lot of aids who do a lot of things to help the dis, and they do phenomenal work.”
The staff work collaboratively to provide individual attention, and the school “doesn’t operate the way some think a school is,” Reinert said, pointing to students getting one-on-one attention at tables in the hallways while others moved from classroom to classroom with no bells or public announcements.
The school uses a “Response to Instruction and Intervention” model that keeps close tabs on each student’s progress and modifies lessons or interventions until the student is up to par. “We don’t assess and move on, we assess and fill the gaps.”
Reading Specialist Caitlin Cooper echoed the collaboration theme. “There’s a culture here where everybody works together and we help each other. The recipe for our success is that it’s not academics first, it’s taking care of each other and taking care of the kids.”
Galicki said the staff come up with a wide range of strategies to help students learn. Cooper said they also work to keep the students relaxed when it’s time to take state tests — the primary assessment used to decide what schools gets a Blue Ribbon designation.
“We have dance parties before the test,” Cooper said, “and we had a circus last year after the test.”
Fifth-grade student R.J. Wren said he loves the school because it “has nice teachers,” and they get to do “fun stuff” like the living wax museum event, when students pick an historic character, learn about him or her, then pose as wax statues until parents or fellow students push a “button” that activates them so they can talk about what they learned.
“I’m Jackie Robinson this year,” Wren said.
Winners will be honored during a program Nov. 18-19, and Reinert said one of the perks for the students will be getting a day off as some staff — and maybe all, Galicki hinted — get to travel to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony.
Reinert was also working on a school parade for today, with everyone wearing a special adornment.
“We have about 600 little blue ribbons,” he said with a grin.