In response to the stories about West Hyannis Elementary

Editor's note: We asked the Superintendent of the Barnstable School District and the Principal of the West Hyannis Elementary School to comment on our stories bemoaning the "De Facto Segregation" at the latter school. Below is the West Hyannis School Principal's response.

By Kathi Amato, Principal, West Barnstable Elementary School

Dear Mr. Brooks,

My name is Kathi Amato and I am the current principal of Hyannis West Elementary School. I am writing this email in response to two “Cape Cod Today” online blogs that were recently written. The blogs titled, “The Saddest Elementary School in Barnstable” and “Barnstable: A sad tale of MCAS scores”, shed a negative light on our school, referring to Hyannis West as a “slum school” and ultimately stating that our students are “programmed to fail”.

The fact is that the perception of “Hyannis kids” is the same today as it was when I grew up in Cotuit close to 40 years ago. I’ll never forget my mother’s reaction the first time I told her I wanted to sleep over my friend’s house in Hyannis. She lived a stones throw from General Patton Drive. Thankfully my mother said yes because this person became my best friend for many, many years. How empty my life would have been if I wasn’t allowed to associate with someone from the “bad section of town”.

Until 2009 there were 2 elementary schools that served the entire Hyannis population.

Now there is one village school and that is Hyannis West. Although ourfamilies have the choice to attend BCHMCPS, the majority choose to attend Hyannis West.

Did the reorganization change the demographics of our school? Yes it did. Our school clearly has the greatest needs, which is why we have the support we do. But our students have the right to attend their neighborhood school. They have no control over the street they live on or they house they reside in, yet they do deserve the same level of education as the other schools in Barnstable, and that’s what we provide for them every day…and much more. Should the identity of our school change by altering the demographics or do we just need to continue to advocate for resources that put us on a level playing field?

In addition to the changing demographics, there have been 8 changes at the principal position over the last 6 years. From 1963, when Hyannis West opened its doors, until 2006, only two principals were at the helm. John Berry served as the school’s leader from 1963 – 1988 when Fred Scully came aboard to lead the school for the next 18 years. Understanding that consistency was crucial at this position, in December of 2010 an extensive search was conducted by the School Committee.

In the end, I was offered the position. Personally, I became a principal for the sole purpose of leading Hyannis West. I am confident that with consistent leadership our school will once again be a school that is a model for others.

Having taught 4th grade at Hyannis West for 15 years, I am well aware that it is a unique school where diversity is welcomed, respected and embraced. While having a high rate of students moving in and out, receiving free and reduced lunch, and speaking a language other than English at home, may be considered a challenge in some schools, we think otherwise. Our students accept each other’s differences, appreciate each other’s talents, rely on each other’s strengths, and challenge each other to compete at their highest level. At Hyannis West we understand that all children can achieve at high levels if high  expectations are placed upon them and the appropriate resources and opportunities are afforded to them. Through collaboration with the staff, PTO, and School Council, we work tirelessly and use a research based, data driven approach, to provide opportunities for all of our students to achieve excellence in a safe, nurturing, learning environment.

The blog referred to Hyannis West as the “saddest school”. We are from it. The staff at Hyannis West chooses to work there BECAUSE of the population we serve. Is it easy? No. But I can’t think of another place on earth that is more rewarding. The social and emotional support, along with the educational opportunities we provide for our students is like no other. We take the time to know our students as learners and as people. The fact that we are their safety net and, for many, the brightest spot in their lives, motivates us to give 100% every day. Years ago we earned Compass, Vanguard, and Blue Ribbon recognition by excelling despite our demographics. We never used poverty or race as an excuse and we won’t start now. Sometimes it’s not about the numbers or the data… it’s about believing in the students and giving them the tools they need to, maybe someday, break the cycle. That is our obligation to them.

I am honored to be a member of the Hyannis West community and to work with such a passionate, dedicated staff who are devoted to every single student that walks through our doors. We are moving in the right direction and I look forward to seeing our positive results posted on Cape Cod Today.

At the end of this letter you will find a list of accomplishments and improvements that our school has experienced over the last year. I am happy to speak to you in person to  elaborate further. I also invite you to visit Hyannis West and base your judgments on the data that isn’t found online. I am confident that after interacting with our students, staff, and families, you would never refer to Hyannis West as a “slum school” again.

Hyannis West Elementary Accomplishments/Improvements Over the Past Year:

  • According to the 2012 ELA MCAS results, the percentage of Hyannis West 3rd graders in each scoring category is almost identical to the state. Since last year, the school showed a 9% increase in students scoring proficient or advanced.
  • Created a new school vision Increased attendance at school-wide events
  • Improved monthly student attendance rate
  • Successful pilot of 20 iPads in a 2nd grade classroom (w/ another 10 being utilized by all staff) This year we are adding at least 2 more groups of 10 iPads for Title One Reading and Math.
  • Staff Mentoring program
  • Community Mentoring program – volunteers from Hyannis Civic Association
  • Positive results on the K-12 District Survey
  • Trained all Kindergarten and 1st grade staff, along with Title One, Special Education, and ELL Teachers, in Project Read, a research-based phonics program. 3 staff members are Project Read trainers.
  • All staff members have received professional development and are utilizing the Responsive Classroom, a positive, school-wide approach to teaching social skills and building community.
  • School-wide literacy initiative focused on reading fluency started in  September. After our first school-wide assessment last week, the majorityof students made realistic to ambitious growth on the Aimsweb fluencyassessment.
  • Implementing a Co-teaching Model where every classroom has another certified teacher in their room during a 90-minute literacy block. This model maximizes time on learning, increases duration of small group,intensive instruction, and provides greater opportunity for differentiatedinstruction.
  • 21st Century grant was just approved! This is the 4th year we’ll be ableto provide additional, after-school, social/academic opportunities for our students.
  • Part-time Social Worker provides small group, social skills instruction.

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