Shannon Petersen, left, and Trinity Smith work on an addition

As Barrett Elementary School Principal Lisa Atlas gathered with
her students around the flagpole to watch the special new flag
raised last month, she felt a swell of pride in her entire school
Morgan Hill – As Barrett Elementary School Principal Lisa Atlas gathered with her students around the flagpole to watch the special new flag raised last month, she felt a swell of pride in her entire school community.

As she spoke to her students about the upcoming STAR testing, her enjoyment of the occasion overflowed when she heard a little boy, possibly a third grader, blurt out, “Don’t forget to go to bed on time, eat a good breakfast and don’t be late to school.”

Laughing, Atlas says the student brightened up an already special occasion, the school’s celebration of its honor as a part of the California Department of Education’s 2007 Title I Academic Achievement Awards Program (AAA).

Morgan Hill Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Michael Johnson said the purpose of the AAA program is to recognize schools that receive Title 1 funds – federal funds allocated to schools based on the number of low socio-economic students enrolled in the school – that excel academically or significantly close the achievement gap among subgroups.

Barrett received a plaque and a special flag at an award ceremony April 17 at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa Hotel. She and former Home & School Club President Stacey Nydam attended a reception hosted by State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell.

“I am so proud of my students, so proud of my staff, of our whole school community,” Atlas said. “Our modesty aside, I really do believe we deserve this, we have earned it.”

Second-grade teacher Jennifer Myers, who began her teaching career when Barrett opened six years ago, calls the award “the icing on the cake.”

“I have seen our test scores rise over the past couple of years, but I did not know that this award existed,” she said. “I was very pleased to see that all of our hard work is starting to pay off, but really it’s icing on the cake. The family relationship, the sense of community, has been the mentality here from day one.”

When people associated with the school talk about Barrett, there are two common themes that are always mentioned: community and respect.

One of the school’s parents said that message was really driven home when she accompanied her son, Douglas, and his fourth-grade class on their trip to Sacramento.

“There’s a lot of emphasis at Barrett with parents and students working together,” said Barrett Home & School Club President Valerie Chambliss. “For example, on the recent trip to Sacramento, we were all loaded on the bus, and Lisa got on and just said, ‘When you go up to Sacramento, you are representing Barrett. Take pride in what you do, pride in Barrett, and behave as I would expect you to.’ ”

Chambliss said parents heard later from tour leaders that they thought the Barrett students were very well behaved and respectful.

“It’s just a part of the Barrett community, that’s the expectation,” she added.

Myers said that the staff support one another on a daily basis and reach out to help with their “open door” policy. But she credits Atlas with driving the school forward.

“I think first and foremost, we have a really strong leader,” she said. “She really is the glue that holds our school together. There is a strong community that she established amongst the teachers from the beginning. It doesn’t matter what grade level you come into, you’ll find the same things. For example, our students use Writer’s Workshop, and that’s from kinder all the way up to sixth grade. From grade level to level, we can really build on the foundation from year to year.”

Barrett has 26 teachers, some of them with shared contracts, and approximately 40 people total work on the campus, which has 530 students. Forty-nine percent of the students are Hispanic, and 39 percent are Caucasian. The percentage of low socio-economic students fluctuates from year to year, but typically hovers around 40 percent.

“We love working with kids with challenges every day,” fourth-grade teacher Sharon Leahy told Morgan Hill School Board trustees during their meeting Tuesday when Atlas and Barrett were recognized. “As Lisa helps us to get smarter every year, our kids get smarter every year.”

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