The Blue Ribbon School Award given to Tilford Elementary School is a prestigious accomplishment; the 2018 awards went to just six of Iowa’s 1,300 school buildings. Tilford received the award for exemplary high performing reading and math achievement. “I believe the most enduring value of the work the Tilford teachers and staff have contributed on behalf of their students will become apparent in 2025, 2026, and 2027,” says Mary Jo Hainstock, Vinton-Shellsburg superintendent. “In those years more of our students will graduate than would have graduated without this great effort and ongoing commitment to student learning.”
It is much more difficult for a student to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to graduate if they haven’t become proficient readers by third grade. In national surveys, poor academic performance is the most common reason cited by students who leave school before graduating, and failure to graduate has highly negative effects on students and society at large.
So what does closing the achievement gap require?
“We don’t have a secret sauce,” explains Tilford principal Jim Murray. “What we have is a process to identify each student’s ability and then we provide personalized instruction that meets their needs. We closely monitor each student’s progress and adjust instruction accordingly.”
Mr. Murray gives credit for the accomplishment
“You might think it would take a tremendous amount of time to review student performance, create interventions and monitor outcomes, but when the systems are embedded in the workday and implemented with urgency, exceptional teamwork becomes part of the normal routine.”
What else goes into making Tilford’s exceptional performance?
“Everyone works here.”
At Tilford, students and staff use this phrase to stay focused on learning as a responsibility everyone shares and as a reminder that learning takes effort. During a visit by Iowa Director of Public Education Ryan Wise, the students Mr. Murray chose to accept the Blue Ribbon Award flag were those he described as having achieved great things because they worked hard and not because success always came easily to them.
A sense of urgency.
There are only 178 teaching days and a limited number of hours during each day when teachers work with students. Tilford staff works hard to take full advantage of the time students have with teachers, and attendance is a key focus of students, parents, and the school.
“The students are ALL our students.”
At Tilford, the entire staff is responsible for the entire student body. During assemblies and in the classroom, students are reminded that the cooks, the custodians, the bus drivers, and all the support staff are working with the teachers to help students succeed. Everyone is valued, and everyone is expected to contribute toward excellence.
Adopting best practices.
The accomplishment of Tilford Elementary School reflects the shared commitment of every member of the school community, from volunteers to school board members, and from the principal to classroom aides. It is a contribution to the well-being of students and community that will grow in value as these students, and the ones to follow, progress through the grades and into the world.