Union Gap School is a small school making big waves. Serving only 665 students — a high number of which are from farm-working families — the school is laser-focused on meeting and exceeding standards. While all schools collect data on student progress, Union Gap excels at using those numbers effectively — and then gives teachers the latitude they need to create the perfect lessons for particular needs.
“We can make a change of something we see that’s just not quite right… we can make a change that [same] day,” says Kurt Hilyard, Superintendent of Union Gap School District.
Principal Lisa Gredvig challenges her staff to come up with their own curriculum, based on learning standards. This gives teachers the flexibility to be creative and best support students. This flexibility comes with its own challenges.
“Our teachers work hard — I mean really hard,” Principal Gredvig emphasizes.
Discover what this hard work has achieved and how this unique model offers support for English-language learners.
UNION GAP, Wash.--Education leaders from across the state gathered at Union Gap School to celebrate the best in academic achievement.
"It was definitely a team effort to get this done," said Union Gap School Principal Lisa Gredvig.
Plenty of planning leading up to packing the stands in the Union Gap School gym.
The school hosting the annual statewide academic achievement award ceremony for the first time.
"I definitely know they didn't pick us because of the size of our gym or the ability to park around here," said Gredvig.
The ceremony is normally held in cities like Olympia, Spanaway and Everett.
But state education leaders felt a change of scenery was in order.
"It was time to come to the valley, Central Washington, Eastern Washington area and recognize some of the great work that is happening in this region," said State Education Board Executive Director Ben Rarick.
Principals and staff members were awarded for their achievements in seven academic areas.
Union Gap led the way with high marks in five of those categories.
Seven other local schools won awards during the ceremony, including Moxee Elementary from East Valley School District and three schools from the West Valley School District.
While this was an overwhelming task for Gredvig, she takes pride in her school being able to pull this off.
"You have to be proud that everybody whose doing good work and helping students achieve, you know, congregated in my building," she said.
But for her, there was just one thing missing from the celebration.
"The only thing that would have been better if all my staff and students could have been here," said Gredvig.
"I feel like the principals that came really felt like they were recognized for the really hard work that they put in everyday," said Rarick.
UNION GAP, WA - Union Gap School hosted the Washington Awards State Ceremony which recognizes schools and educators for making a difference in student outcomes. Over 200 schools in the state were recognized at the ceremony, but Union Gap took the top honor.
The school was honored for being the only school in the state to receive five of the seven awards available. Those awards are; Overall Excellence, High Progress, English Language Growth, Math Growth and English Language Acquisition.
When asked how they were able to achieve such a feat Union Gap School Principal, Lisa Gredvig said that the school found what worked for it and improved on that.
"We are different in the fact that we do not rely on curriculum to do what is best for our kids," said Gredvig. "We don't rely on textbooks we rely on just working with the standards and working with the things that students need in the classroom."
This is the first time that the award ceremony comes to this part of Washington and the first time that it is hosted by the school. Some of the other schools in our area that were honored, were Moxee Elementary, Robert Lince Elementary in Selah, Apple Valley Elementary and Cottonwood Elementary, both located in West Valley.
UNION GAP, Wash.--Some local schools are being honored with one of the most prestigious academic awards in the entire state, and one school is leading the way with their continued success in education.
"At first I was like shocked and you know, second was I can't wait to tell my staff," said Union Gap School Principal Lisa Gredvig.
Union Gap School is one of eight local schools to win the 2015 Washington Achievement Award.
Each year, O.S.P.I. recognizes Washington schools for superior progress in seven academic areas.
Union Gap School had high marks in five of those categories.
A testament to the high expectations students set for themselves.
"That academic growth that you see is literally, you know, the child, the birth child of their hard work," said Gredvig.
Other award winners include Moxee Elementary in East Valley and three schools from the West Valley School district.
Gredvig says focus on testing for bilingual students helped the school gain this honor for the third straight year.
"When they know why they're taking assessment, I think that they know that 'I've passed this test, I'm not going to take it again,' which is appropriate for the ELL kids," she said.
She'll be the first tell you though, this award is about the dedicated faculty and the impact they have on students.
"I have the best staff in the state and I'm not afraid to say that. They're the most hard working people and they what's best for kids all that time," Gredvig said.
In May, the school will host about 250 school leaders from all across the state for the annual awards celebration.
Wide Hollow Elementary School in West Valley and Union Gap School have been recognized as being among the top 5 percent of public schools in the state.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction unveiled its list of 2014 Washington Achievement Award winners Monday. Along with Wide Hollow and Union Gap, 16 other schools in the Yakima Valley and Ellensburg earned one or more distinctions.
Wide Hollow and Union Gap earned an Overall Excellence award, given to the top 5 percent. Schools could win awards in one of six categories: overall excellence, English language acquisition, reading and math growth, high progress and graduation rates.
Other notables included Yakima’s Whitney Elementary School, earning High Progress distinction, given to schools among the top 10 percent of schools making student performance progress. Sunnyside, Naches Valley and Grandview high schools earned the same recognition, as did elementary and middle schools in West Valley, Zillah, Selah, East Valley, Naches and Union Gap.
Zillah, Toppenish, Naches and Grandview high schools, meanwhile, earned recognition for their high graduation rates.
There are six awards total. Only two other schools in the state earned four or more. The principal credits some of the progress to transitioning to common core standards. Union Gap School is also one of the few schools that goes kindergarten thru eighth grade rather than just K-5.
"That gives me a little more pride because if you really look at that list, there's no one else like us on that list," said Union Gap School principal Lisa Gredvig.
Several schools throughout Yakima County received awards from the state. You can find the full list here.
With an enrollment of 631 students, the Union Gap School District is by far the smallest in Yakima County. Small enough that it houses preschool, kindergarten, elementary and middle school grades in one building.
At the Union Gap School, the daily routine is no different than most other Yakima Valley schools. Take Tanya Gautreaux’s middle school math class. On a recent morning, students dive into the laws of exponents.
The product rule, the quotient rule — the eighth-graders grasped the concepts quickly.
But something is different in Union Gap. While student and family demographics mirror those of other cities in Yakima County — majority Hispanic populations and many low-income families — Union Gap students are performing better, significantly better in some cases, than their counterparts in many other schools.
Union Gap teachers and administrators say their success is a combination of the small district size, minimal teacher turnover, a tight-knit relationship between teachers and administrators and close ties with the surrounding community.
Whatever it is, Union Gap is doing something right.
“We get a lot of calls saying, ‘Why are your test scores so high? Can we come over and see what you’re doing?’ ” said Superintendent Kurt Hilyard. “There is no magic button that makes it so.”
State assessment scores from the school tell the story. For example, almost 85 percent of sixth-grade students met or exceeded standards in reading last spring. In fourth-grade math, 72 percent of students met proficiency. And in eighth-grade writing, about 83 percent of students met or exceeded standards.
Some of their test scores are the highest in the county. State education officials took note last year when Union Gap was presented the Washington Achievement Award in recognition of its significant growth in reading and math proficiency.
A coalition of education groups has given the middle school level two consecutive School of Distinction Awards for becoming one of the fastest-improving schools in the state.
The state Board of Education recently rated Union Gap School as Very Good, the second-highest rating a school can receive under the board’s achievement index, a multiyear evaluation of a school’s proficiency, student growth and college and career readiness. It is also the second-highest rated school in the county under the index, just behind Wide Hollow Elementary in West Valley.
The accolades come as no surprise to Union Gap staff and faculty. Gautreaux, in her ninth year at the school, said the administration places high expectations on its teachers and, as a result, teachers raise the bar for students. Furthermore, the benefit of having several grades under one building means students grow up right before the staff’s eyes and in close quarters, which enables staff to monitor them on a more personal level.
“We’re not only a small school but we’re a small family,” Gautreaux said. “We get to see kids grow from kindergarten to eighth grade. ... I’ve even seen kids now in high school come back and ask for help.”
Teachers meet frequently with the principal and the administration. Weekly meetings make it easier to hear what is or is not working in classrooms.
Monthly data meetings where teachers report student performance (the superintendent participates) contribute to their success — as well as their relationship with the administration. One of the district’s newer hires, sixth-grade math teacher Krystin Linney, said she joined the Union Gap team in part because of the promise that teachers and their supervisors worked closely together. She is a second-year employee of the district.
The fact that the superintendent also is in the classroom — Hilyard teaches an algebra class — was a welcome surprise, Linney said, because it likely meant he could share a teacher’s point of view.
“All those structures he’s talked about are true,” Linney said. “We do have many meetings, we have a strong support system.”
It doesn’t hurt that Union Gap teachers on average are the most experienced compared to other schools in the county, according to data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. For the 2013-14 school year, the average length of experience for Union Gap educators was 13.2 years. Teachers at neighboring Yakima averaged 12.6 years of experience.
“Every year that someone teaches, they build an understanding, they can build and adjust,” said Leslie Hall, a clinical associate professor with Washington State University’s teaching and learning department. “Longevity in a district and just longevity in the field will really add to success.”
Hall knows the Yakima Valley, having taught at Mabton prior to pursuing her master’s and doctoral degrees.
Both Hilyard and Principal Lisa Gredvig said Union Gap generally hires teachers who already have professional experience; it has been a few years since someone right out of college was hired, they said.
The positive reviews of the district have spread, Gredvig said. Teachers outside the district often inquire about open positions. But turnover is fairly minimal and there are only so many positions to fill; last school year, Union Gap employed only 38 teachers.
“People will send me resumes and say to please keep them on file,” Gredvig said. “It’s nice getting that kind of reputation that instruction is paramount to anything else.”
First-grade teacher Nicki Thornton said a colleague of hers was at another school, and she made the difficult decision to leave because the Union Gap vision intrigued her.
“She was really happy where she was,” Thornton said. “She applied here because she was pleased with how progressive we were, adapting Common Core (State Standards), the rigor.”
The school had been under Common Core, the new benchmarks intended to create rigorous and diverse coursework, prior to its statewide implementation this fall.
Because Union Gap’s demographics so closely match those of other Yakima County districts, its success is all the more noteworthy.
OSPI data from last school year shows 75.9 percent of Union Gap’s student population was Hispanic, the same as the Yakima School District. Both school districts also have more than 80 percent of the student population eligible for free or reduced meals. Almost 27 percent of Union Gap’s students are in transitional bilingual programs, just below the nearly one-third of Yakima students similarly labeled.
Yakima Superintendent Elaine Beraza partly attributes the achievement differences to size.
“There are advantages to having small entities and there may be some disadvantages,” Beraza said, without elaborating on the latter.
“They’re a very small school district. They only go to grade 8. ... It’s a very different entity.”
Beraza said meeting with teachers would be easier in Union Gap whereas Yakima had 829 teachers last year. She makes an effort to visit multiple schools per week, and likes to spend entire days in one or two schools.
Curtis Campbell of the Sunnyside School District said Superintendent Rick Cole, currently on personal leave, makes trips to schools twice a week to talk with the teachers and the principals. Much like Yakima, Cole cannot visit all the Sunnyside schools in one work day.
Union Gap’s test scores may also benefit from its low migrant population, often challenging students because of their short-term residency and potential English-language learning barriers. About 9 percent of Union Gap’s students are labeled migrants compared to the 19 percent reported in Yakima. Limited housing in the city is the likeliest reason for the school’s lower number of migrant children, said Hilyard.
Despite the high minority population, Union Gap has succeeded in helping those students achieve. The 2011-12 achievement index results show a reversal in the “achievement gap” between minority and white students so often seen at other schools. That year, Union Gap minority students outperformed the white students by a slim margin.
“Usually it’s the other way around,” Hilyard said.
Noninstructional initiatives, like building a new school and implementing a uniform policy, all in 2009, also contributed to a more cohesive student body, Hilyard added. Uniforms have practically eliminated any gang-afiliated issues; the building is a model of modern school security with single points of entry and dozens of security cameras throughout the campus.
“The new school is so safe and secure that when the parents put off that aura that it’s a safe place for their kids, the kids pick up on it too,” Hilyard said.
Hall of WSU agrees that safety affects student performance because she says many children in today’s world are hypervigilant about their surroundings.
“They hear about infectious diseases and are terrified they will get it. They hear about war across the world so then they begin to worry about war,” she said. “If they are sure the school is safe and there is someone to keep them safe, it helps.”
And Hilyard said the community connection should not be underestimated.
He calls the school “the hub of the community,” where public meetings and school family nights are held in the multipurpose room.
He has more plans to integrate the school into the city with a greenhouse, currently under construction, which could encourage parental involvement through a community garden.
UNION GAP, Wash. — When state test scores were unveiled last month, Union Gap School officials found out the 26 eighth-grade students who took end-of-course (EOC) Algebra I assessments were proficient — a perfect 100 percent.
But when they looked for the information on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) data tables, the 100 percent proficiency mark was nowhere to be found.
“When you come down to the EOC (scores), the green bar is not there,” said Superintendent Kurt Hilyard, referring to missing numbers and bars for the 2013-14 school year in the state’s online database.
As it turns out, OSPI — under the umbrella of the 1974 federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — set “suppression regulations” to protect student privacy. One such rule states that test scores are suppressed, or hidden, if the total percentage of students meeting standards in a given category is greater than or equal to 95 percent. Because every Union Gap student taking the test met proficiency, the overall data on the test results were kept out of public eye.
As OSPI explains it, if all students perform similarly on an assessment, inferring the performance of any one student would be easy.
“We can’t do it because you had 100 percent of your kids pass,” Hilyard said, relating his conversation with an OSPI official. “We can’t put 100 percent down.”
Both Hilyard and Principal Lisa Gredvig were disappointed over the omission of the eighth-grade scores. As the state and federal government’s primary objectives under the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Act are to have all students reach proficiency, the two said they can’t comprehend why the public cannot see those numbers if the schools actually reach them.
Hilyard said he even sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressing his disappointment that parents could not see what the eighth graders accomplished if they checked out the OSPI data. He was uncertain if Duncan would ever read the letter.