Principal Marco Nava took over his post at the Highland Park school in the midst of an academic crisis.
After years of slow and steady improvement, Annandale saw a dramatic drop in its Academic Performance Index (API) score from 791 in the previous year to 753 in the 2008/2009 school year.
During that same time, only four students in the school of about 250 were listed as “gifted and talented" (Gate), a special Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) designation that makes those students eligible for advanced instruction during the school day.
Two years later, Annandale Elementary has been named a School for Advanced Studies by the LAUSD, a distinction that will allow the school to enroll students from across the entire breadth of the district and opens doors to more advanced, challenging instruction for the school’s growing number of Gate students.
As a School For Advanced Studies, Annandale will also receive a block grant that will used to pay for professional development courses, which Nava says will give his staff added tools for teaching gifted and talented students.
As the end of the current school year, Annandale will have 25 students who are listed as gifted and talented, according to Nava.
Nava insists, though, that Annandale’s students didn’t suddenly become brighter; rather that the school’s administration got better at recognizing the light.
“I think it’s about having that intentionality, about identifying an area we want to improve, identifying those people who want to be a part of that improvement and then good things happen,” he said.
Students earn the Gate tag after first being recognized by a teacher as showing signs of possessing enhanced intellectual or artistic abilities, and then testing into the program.
Given that only those schools which list at least six-percent of their students as gifted and talented can apply to become Schools for Advanced Studies, Nava initiated a school-wide effort to identify as many Gate as students as possible.
Those students who were identified as potentially gifted and talented then received additional one on one instruction from the school’s intervention specialists, Sonia Salgado and Rose Flores.
Nava insists that the special attention being paid to the schools so called Gate students will have a payoff for the entire student body of Annandale.
For starters, Nava said, schools in predominantly Latino neighborhoods tend to be “ethnically isolated.” With the School for Advanced Studies designation, which lasts for three years, Annandale will be able to increase diversity within the school by enrolling students from communities across the district.
Further, Nava said that the professional development that the teachers will be able to undergo will benefit students of all talent levels.
“I really think that the benefits to the whole school are really there. We have the potential to impact all of our students. As our teachers get more professional development, they're going to learn how they teach to the level that each of their students is currently at,” Nava said. “English learners, special education students, students kind of in the middle--the teacher will learn how to cater their teaching to them as well.”