Nevada County school superintendent improves district, wins award
Sometimes improvement and achievement boil down to if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Such is the case of James Berardi, superintendent of Twin Ridges School District, who won the Superintendent of the Year award from the Association of California School Administrators, something faculty members said is due to multiple improvements he has made in just one year of working in the school district.
“I think he brought a new sense of direction to Grizzly Hill School,” said Cheri Smith, Grizzly Hill kindergarten and first-grade teacher. “He’s a very positive influence on the school, he collaborates with teachers, so it’s a real collaborative effort, not a top-down administration, which works really well with teachers, students and parents.”
Berardi said he believes in honing in on an individual student’s needs, a realistic goal and advantage of the small size of the district’s population, which includes Grizzly Hill School with 82 students and Washington School with 11.
“I contributed to a laser focus, to look at past test scores, our strengths and weaknesses and look at the kids’ strengths and weaknesses,” Berardi said. “We have a concise idea of where we were going and what we wanted to accomplish, and I think before the teachers didn’t know how to necessarily use the data in front of them to get the best results.”
Berardi even hired an intervention specialist to work one on one with students, which he said ultimately helped raise the school’s Academic Performance Index score.
The API is a single number, ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000, which reflects a school’s performance level, based on the results of statewide testing, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Improving test scores was not something new for Berardi, who helped raise student scores 250 points when he worked in Downieville for six years.
“We raised the scores over 250 points, which is very, very high, a big accomplishment, and I was hired here to help turn around the scores,” Berardi said. “We put in a lot of hard work, the teachers looked at individual kids, and our scores went up 119 points, the highest gain in the county.”
Rather than focus on periodic assessment of student learning, Berardi focuses on formative assessment, where student progress is tracked daily.
“You go back and re-teach and check for understanding on a daily basis, not just wait for the end of the unit,” Berardi said. That’s really helped keep track of kids.”
Minimum days, which take place each Wednesday, serve as a time for faculty to come together and focus on collaboration and strategy, Berardi said.
“I hand out all the previous tests of the kid’s scores so you can take the student and focus on their weaknesses, so you know if they need either remediation or if they already know it. Even if it’s a part of your lesson plan, why are you spending a week teaching it when they already know it? So you know when to speed up, slow down, back up and give the students what they need.” Another focus for improvement involves climate and environment, not just academics, he said.
“To move forward in a positive way, you need to know what to accomplish and to do that students need to feel comfortable and safe and once I can create a positive climate, we can say we’re here to help you, not embarrass you, and help you get to where you need to be,” Berardi said.
“I ask myself, what is our job? We’re not considered that, but we are really in the service industry, and when you’re in a restaurant, you want a good time, good food, good service,” Berardi said. “I ask myself first, what are we trying to accomplish and what do we need to accomplish and provide a service to these families?”
Hard work and determination from all levels of the school administration have helped in the improvement process, Berardi said.
“I believe the district has some of the best student-to-teacher ratios in the entire county, but it’s a focus that has to come from administration, myself and the board who I work for and developing relationships with teachers,” Berardi said. “I’m just doing what I believe is right for the kids and I believe it will continue to work.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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