Principal Ronny Snow and his staff at Malakoff Elementary in East Texas have worked with grit and determination to turn a small, struggling campus into a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School. In bringing about that transformation, which Principal Snow says is a tribute to the stellar staff at the school, they encouraged higher level thinking, built a strong tutoring program, and sought out new resources to support their goals.
Watch Principal Snow talk about the school’s journey over the last decade, then read the full story below:
A Quest to Become Exemplary
Nearly ten years ago, Ronny Snow had just completed his first year as a principal, one marked with tumult as the school rebuilt in the aftermath of a fire that had devastated the campus in 2005. In addition to this operational complication, Malakoff Elementary also faced challenges common to many rural schools: a large proportion of disadvantaged students and a high mobility rate. For a Title I school, Malakoff’s performance was acceptable, but Principal Snow had a vision to transform the school.
“Our scores were decent—they weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great—and we were looking for that next thing that could get us to the next level,” Principal Snow says.
That summer at the annual TEPSA conference, he met the Mentoring Minds team and found that next thing—Total Motivation Math. He says, “This was back in the days of TAKS, and we had to take steps to go from Acceptable to Recognized to Exemplary, but we met that goal in about four years.”
Malakoff Elementary has sustained their high performance ever since, even through the transition to the STAAR test, and was recognized in 2015 as an Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School.
Keys to Implementation
According to Principal Snow, Malakoff Elementary’s pathway to success was made possible by the talents of an all-star team of teachers and their work on two vital initiatives: an after-school tutoring program that runs from November to April, and the implementation of Total Motivation, the supplemental curriculum from Mentoring Minds.
In 2006, when Malakoff’s teachers first implemented Total Motivation as a supplemental resource for math, it presented a learning curve for their students due to the higher levels of thinking embedded in the rigorous content. However, the staff recognized the value in challenging their students.
Principal Snow credits his teachers for pushing the students to settle for nothing but the best in the classroom, and he believes that the rigor is precisely what has made the program so important at Malakoff. Now, Principal Snow says that his teachers will give advice to other districts, saying, “If your students can be successful in Total Motivation, don’t worry about STAAR.”
Since that first year of implementation, Malakoff’s teachers have elected to expand their use of Total Motivation to all subject areas, including math, reading, writing, and science. The staff feels that one of the resource’s strengths lies in its strong alignment to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). “Whatever your program is, you start looking at standards,” says Principal Snow, “And I think where Mentoring Minds really hits it is with the research that’s gone into those readiness standards. That’s what I think really makes it stand out.”
Malakoff’s teachers rely on the breadth and depth of Total Motivation to support their teaching of the TEKS. In addition to the rigorous student practice, the wealth of activities provided in the Teacher Edition support educators in identifying learning gaps so that they can intervene before students fall too far behind. Principal Snow says, “My teachers love it. One of their big concerns every spring is whether I’ve ordered Total Motivation yet. They wouldn’t know what to do without it, now. Or, let me put it this way—they would be very unhappy without it.”
During this school year, Principal Snow integrated Total Motivation into the school’s technology initiative. “I’m excited that with Mentoring Minds we’re able to use not only our pencil-and-paper tasks, but also our tablets with the digital side of it.”
High Performance and National Recognition
Principal Snow has seen impressive, sustained results at Malakoff Elementary. Even after the TEKS changed and STAAR replaced the TAKS test, Malakoff’s average passing rate for all subjects stayed near 90 percent, where it has been each year since 2010. Impressively, the school’s Level 3 STAAR scores are now nearly double the state average.
Last year’s third-grade reading scores had a 96 percent passing rate, but even more noteworthy was the percentage of students who scored at Level 3—46 percent, or nearly half of all third graders, scored as advanced academic performers. Principal Snow says, “Our third-grade teacher will tell you a lot of it is Total Motivation Reading and getting the students successful with that program.”
In 2015, Malakoff’s success earned national recognition. The U.S. Department of Education honored the school by naming it as one of only 15 Texas elementary schools to earn the National Blue Ribbon School distinction in 2015 based on its sustained high performance and instructional methods. Notably, Malakoff’s sister school and fellow Total Motivation user, Tool Elementary, was also nominated for the honor in 2016, making Malakoff ISD the smallest district in the award’s history to have two campuses nominated back-to-back.
Malakoff Elementary’s staff and students celebrated at an award ceremony at the
school in November 2015, before traveling to Washington D.C. to accept the award. At the ceremony, Principal Snow spoke about the school’s success and his staff’s hard work, saying, “Now, other principals always ask me what the magic potion is, and you know, there’s not one. It always comes down to people, not programs—and my teachers are diamonds. However, there’s one program that we’ve used all these years that we couldn’t go without, and that’s Mentoring Minds.”
This article is part of the Success Story series, which features real classrooms and real results around the country in order to provide a transparent look at how Mentoring Minds customers are innovating, implementing, and engineering their way to academic success. Many thanks to Principal Ronny Snow and his staff at Malakoff Elementary for their willingness to share their experience.