Teamwork is key to Ganado principal's award

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 28, 2013

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Helen Aseret

G anado Primary School Principal Helen Aseret doesn't take full credit for her individual achievements, and instead praises her team of teachers, faculty and parents who put in the "hard work" that allow her students to succeed and achieve.

Earlier this month, Aseret was awarded the AdvancED Excellence in Education Award by the AdvancED/Navajo Nation State Office, which is dedicated to advancing excellence in education worldwide.

The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Northwest Accreditation Commission and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement are accreditation divisions of the prestigious AdvancED education organization.

"There is a shared achievement between myself, the students, staff and parents," Aseret said. "They worked hard to make this happen. I do feel we deserve such an award."

Aseret was among five nominees for the state-level Excellence in Education Award. She won the award for her unparalleled leadership in promoting and advancing excellence in education.

"Many individuals are making outstanding contributions to our young people and should have the opportunity to be recognized," said Loretta Draper, who serves dual roles as an associate state director for the AdvancED/Navajo Nation State Office and principal education specialist for the Department of Diné Education.

In her nomination for the award, Draper noted how Aseret is dependable, a good team member, and as a principal never hesitates in allowing certified staff to serve as volunteers on the accreditation reviews.

Other accomplishments for the principal include Ganado Primary making Adequate Yearly Progress from 2006 to 2011, serving on the State District Leadership Team, and receiving a letter grade of a "B" through the Arizona A-F Letter Grade System. In 2011, Ganado Primary was recognized as an Arizona 2011 All-Subject Higher Performing School.

What's more, Aseret has provided a long-lasting positive impact on student learning, one of five criteria for the nomination process.

In fact, the team approach Aseret speaks about, which her latest achievement backs up, is seen through her unparalleled leadership in promoting and advancing excellence in education over her 10-year period as a principal.

Though Aseret makes her achievements look easy, they were by no means a simple task.

Earlier in her tenure as a principal, Ganado Primary School didn't meet the federal benchmarks outlined by the No Child Left Behind Act's Adequate Yearly Progress. Under the No Child Left Behind law, which expired in 2007, schools receiving federal funding like Ganado Primary had to take state-standardized tests and pass them to get funding.

It wasn't until 2006 that the primary school achieved AYP status, and five consecutive years thereafter until the state of Arizona was granted a NCLB waiver by U.S. President Barak Obama in 2012. The waiver allowed for the Arizona State Education Department to adopt a letter-grade system for schools.

Under the letter-grade system, Ganado Primary received a "B" letter grade last school year, meaning that it demonstrates an above-average level of performance. The "B" letter grade also means the primary school earned points equal to a school that has 70 percent of students passing the state-mandated Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test.

"A lot of it has to deal with collaboration and camaraderie among the staff," Aseret said about her award and school's achievements. "They have been helpful and a lot of the ideas come from them."

This school year, the goal is to get an "A" letter grade, Aseret said.

"If you're going to make an 'A' you have to have 140 to 200 points," she said.

For school year 2011-2012, Ganado Primary had 120 points for a "B" letter grade. A "C" is between 100-119 points and "D" is from zero to 99.

The point spread for the A-F Letter Grade System is based on a combination of students' scores on the AIMS tests and the academic growth of students from one year to the next.

Most of the primary school's achievements are attributed to Aseret's leadership. To help maintain these test and grade scores, she has implemented a staff development model called a Professional Learning Community, where teachers, faculty and staff are allowed to brainstorm, share their ideas and become empowered about achieving school goals.

The school's PLC meets each week and talks about strategies to improve the school system.

"Currently, teachers are reading about Common Core (a national system of standards)," Aseret said. "We are educating ourselves by reading our professional development books."

According to first-grade teacher Elaina Vann, the adoption of the PLC, a tool created by researcher Richard Dufour, is effective.

"We put our ideas together and pick the best on that works for us," she said, adding it allows teachers to ponder how to work as a community "to do the best we can for the children."

Vann added Aseret is a big supporter of a program called "At Home Reading."

"The way she supports that in our school is that she sets aside a budget for teachers to purchase books," she said, adding that the more students read, the better readers they become.

"It's a daily thing and it's something she's an advocate for within our school," Vann added.

Aseret's academic coach, Wylma Arviso, agreed with Vann that their boss is no dictator when it comes to running the school.

"There is a comfortable relationship, but yet her expectations are high for us," Arviso said. "She trusts us to do our job."

"She works with the team and asks what works best even though she may have an idea," Vann added. "She has that thought of teamwork."

According to Draper, the next step for Aseret is to compete for the national and international AdvancED Excellence in Education Award.

"Helen has won the state level," Draper said, adding she enters a pool of about 1,000 nominees for the national and international award.

The Oaksprings, Ariz., native has a bachelor of science degree in Elementary Education and a master's degree in Education, both from Northern Arizona University. She also has a master's degree in educational leadership and bilingual education from Arizona State University.

Aseret is Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around Clan), born for Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan). Her maternal grandfather is Tótsohnii (Big Water Clan) and paternal grandfather is Tábaahá (Water Edge Clan).

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