Motorists driving down Route 95 South past Philadelphia might never know that tucked away off exit 9 B, right before the Philadelphia International Airport, lies a community so dedicated to its schools that it has overcome immense odds in order to make dramatic changes in the way it educates its students.
Tinicum Township is a community hit hard by the economic downturn, where 44 percent of the students receive free or reduced meals. Still, the township has proven that by setting high expectations for all, great things can happen. As proof, this year the 4,400 residents of this blue-collar town are celebrating Tinicum Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School award for 2010.
Five years ago, only 52 percent of the township’s eighth graders reached proficiency in math and reading. This past year, 83 percent reached proficiency in math and 85 percent in reading.
What made the difference? Most residents attribute this success teachers who were inspired by a great leader. The school’s principal, David Criscuolo, is credited with creating significant changes on two major fronts, academic and behavioral. In both areas, he has directed the school to use data to gauge the progress of each student.
Assistant Superintendent Lawrence Hobdell explains Criscuolo’s strategy: “Besides valuing teacher input, Mr. Criscuolo values student assessments to see what the data prove.”
In addition to district-wide assessments, Tinicum School monitors students over short periods of time and provides teachers and parents immediate feedback so that adjustments can be made. Frequently, Criscuolo brings together teachers by grade level to discuss instructional strategies, and he always includes the Response to Intervention specialists and special education teachers in these benchmark meetings.
The school leadership realizes that academic achievement cannot happen without socially and emotionally sound students, so, in addition to academic data, behavioral goals are posted throughout the building, and all families are made aware of these expectations. The information collected reflects individual student behavior, but also areas of the school and times where trouble is most likely to occur. Staff members are encouraged to report and reward positive behavior, and all members of the community work together to provide the best learning environment for the children.
Elizabeth Williamson, Communications Team Lead for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, based in the Philadelphia Regional Office
Elizabeth Williamson is a former public school English teacher and an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at Temple University.