The Write Stuff: Crawford Elementary School principal succeeds with literacy program


AURORA | There are plenty of challenges facing urban schools like Aurora’s Crawford Elementary School.

The school of about 800 students sits near east East 16th Avenue and Florence Street in one of the city’s neighborhoods where serious poverty is common. And, about 20 percent of the students there are refugees from another country. In all, students there speak 28 different languages.

Still, in the face of all that, the school saw marked improvement last year with students there seeing the highest jump of any Aurora Public School in proficiency on state tests. Third- and fifth-grade proficient writing scores increased by more than 10 percentage points, and fifth-graders scoring proficient on the state’s reading exam surged by nearly 20 percentage points.

Last month, the school’s recent turnaround led to major honors for Crawford Principal Jenny Passchier. The Colorado Association of School Executives named her the 2015 National Distinguished Principal of the Year for Colorado. The award means she is up for the national honor as well.

While the award is a major honor for principals, Passchier is quick to deflect the praise from her to her staff and students at Crawford. In fact, Passchier said her first thought when she heard about the award was what it could mean for the school.

“It was an opportunity to really put Crawford in the spotlight,” she said.

APS Superintendent Rico Munn said he anticipated Passchier would give credit for Crawford’s success — which also includes a four-fold drop in staff turnover — to the rest of the team at Crawford.

“Principal Passchier will be humble and defer to the great work of her students and staff,” he said in a statement announcing the award. “But we also want to recognize her incredible work. She is an incredible asset to the families at Crawford Elementary, Aurora Public Schools and the greater community.”

Passchier, who has been in education for 16 years and a principal for seven, came to Crawford at the start of last school year after being the principal at Park Lane Elementary School.

Just as Park Lane was when she took over there, Crawford was on a “priority improvement plan” when she got there, a designation used for struggling schools.

In her time at Park Lane, Passchier had emphasized writing in all subjects — including physical education — and a focus on academic standards. Passchier said she installed the writing-heavy focus at Crawford because it can help students synthesize and focus their thoughts in every subject.

The focus worked well at Park Lane and that school was removed from a priority improvement plan in just one school year.

Passchier brought those same ideas with her to Crawford and again, the school was off the improvement plan in just one school year.

Even before last year’s standardized test results came in, Passchier said she had a feeling Crawford would see major improvement. During the testing week, students were taking far longer than they had before to finish their tests, she said, a sign that they were focused and trying their best.

“We knew that they had made a lot of growth from the year before,” she said.

Jocelyn Stephens, Passchier’s supervisor and APS P-20 Learning Community Director, said Passchier has been an asset for the district.

“I count it as a gift to have a leader like Ms. Passchier in our learning community; she models how the work of a principal can be relevant to the true needs of a school community in a passionate, authentic and strategic way,” she said in the statement.

For her part, Passchier said that while some might look at Crawford and see a list of challenges, she sees opportunity. The same goes for the staff, she said, who have bought into the changes and are as excited about working with the school’s diverse population as she is.

“It is really in them,” she said of her staff. “They believe that no matter where kids come from, no matter what their situation, students still can succeed.”