They instituted a program that had every student in the doing a one-sentence exercise during every period of the day - a small thing, teachers say, that amounts to a lot of extra writing practice over the course of weeks, months and years.
They also put students to work on the state's computer program that prepares them for the standardized writing test, an effort to familiarize students with the test's format as well as having them do more writing practice.
"We just needed to focus on skills," Kelley said.
Next came a new "enrichment program." The school built a schedule that allowed for a 23-minute period each day in which students work on their trouble areas.
All of these solutions came from teachers at Herbert Hoover - a bottom-up approach that Kelley said was key to the plan.
"Sometimes when you get these mandates from somewhere else you don't have the kind of buy-in that you need from teachers and students," he said. "But when the plan was developed by the school by the people who are going to implement it that's not a problem at all."
Even more important, they say, is that they've managed to change the atmosphere at the school in a way that is vital to success, even though it isn't quantifiable.
"We made being smart cool again," said Heather Lyons, a science teacher. "They're excited to find out how well they did. They get really excited about being smart."
That took time. To accomplish it, they worked to make the kids more competitive about their academics - a way to make them care more. And teachers say their own excitement about their students' improvement inevitably rubbed off on the kids.
"When you're not successful it's almost dangerous to try hard because then you're risking failing," Kelley said. "That's kind of the hump we had to get over to get to this point."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.
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