Increased proficiency at Carson Middle School |

Increased proficiency at Carson Middle School

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal Eighth-grader Samantha Amato writes in her journal following proficiency testing during Mrs. Mendeguia's English class Friday afternoon at Carson Middle School.

Principal Sam Santillo sees his leadership style as strong, an asset deemed essential by a team of University of Nevada, Reno professors who correlate the quality with a school being able to leave the ‘in need of improvement’ designation behind.

But Santillo, whose Carson Middle School has not made adequate yearly progress for the past three years, sees strong leadership as just one component to student success. Another, he says, is the parents.

“We only have (students) part of the day,” he said. “The parents have them eight, 12 or 14 hours a day.”

And he encourages parents who are discouraged by low proficiency in the schools, much of which is below 50 percent in some grade levels across the state, to become involved, either by volunteering during the day or after hours.

“The school, now more than ever, is wearing too many hats,” he said. “We’re feeding these kids, we have an after-school program going until 5, we do Christmas baskets, we have a food drive. How nice it would be for a teacher to teach and not worry about why a child is sleeping in class because the parents have been up all night fighting.”

He said parents who value education produce children who value education. And while the UNR group pinpointed a strong principal as a component of student achievement, it also found that such a principal was likely to create a concise school improvement plan which would also guide the school out of the ‘in need of improvement’ distinction.

Carson Middle School had three goals in its improvement plan in the 2004-05 school year, but at the suggestion of a department of education representative, the improvement team whittled those down to one for the 2005-06 year: to improve student scores in English-language arts and math in all subgroups.

“The (school improvement) process forces you to focus on what you’re doing, how you’re teaching and what you’re teaching and forces you to address those individual subgroups,” Santillo said.

The school improvement team includes Santillo, as well as a special-education teacher, a math teacher, an English teacher and an instructional aide.

To help meet its school improvement goal, the school began using an accelerated computer math program in 2004 that allows students to target areas of personal difficulty when they have down time in the classroom.

The school has shown improved proficiency since 2003-04, when 55 percent of eighth-graders tested proficient in math and 58 percent tested proficient in English-language arts to 2004-05 when 59 percent tested proficient in math and 65 percent tested proficient in English. Results can be viewed online at

Santillo said that the criterion reference tests, which are used to determine adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and are given in third, fifth and eighth grades, are not based on state standards.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword there,” he said. “If you follow the CRTs, you’ll make AYP, but if you teach the standards, not everyone may score high on their CRTs, but they’re meeting grade-level expectations.”

Carson Middle School has improved annually by 10 percent, he said, something most people would see as success.

“If the school was a Fortune 500 company making 10 percent growth every year, I don’t think anybody would look at it as an inadequate company,” he said.

Low proficiency could be a result of high numbers of subgroups, he said. That could explain why eighth-graders in the Douglas County School District, which has 13 percent fewer limited-English proficient students and 12 percent fewer low-income students compared to Carson, showed more proficiency in math and English.

“Some of these schools don’t have to deal with struggling learners,” he said. “They’re getting the middle and above students.”

n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at or 881-1219.